Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dennis Byrne Nails 501(c) Hypocrites - Hull House Settlement for Cronies?

Remember when real estate agent and hausfrau Patty Blagojevich was named to the board of directors for a local charity? Thought so. Let me refresh you, dear reader.

CHICAGO — The wife of impeached Illinois Gov
Rod Blagojevich was fired from her $100,000-a-year job as a Chicago homeless agency's chief fundraiser.

The Chicago Christian Industrial League's board exercised a termination clause of Patti Blagojevich's contract on Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times reported on their Web sites Wednesday.

Interim Executive Director Mary Shaver told the papers she could not discuss personnel issues. She did not return telephone messages from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The poor girl went from bagging 100K to eating worms in Costa Rica - life's viscissitudes.

Mrs. Blagojevich was fired almost immediately after her husband was cuffed by the Feds; however, the same folks hired her for some reason at a husky salary, I might add. That is Charity these days.

I have been working in and around charity since 1991. Mostly, I work with private family foundations with, in charitable circles, modest piles of loot. They are not the Ford, Hearst, Joyce, MacArthur, Polk Brothers, or God forbid, the Woods Fund. There's charity . . . and then there's Charity.

I also have a great deal of luck taping local companies for support - Wells Fargo, The John Buck Company, McDonalds & etc. Law Firms with Leo Alumni are very generous, as well.

CHARITIES - Wood Fund, Joyce and MacArthur play big league politics. Those charities pay hugely and grant magnificently to connected and sanctioned entities.

It seems to me that since the early 1990's more of the Big Charities play politics rather than philanthropy. In fact, some family members of the MacArthur Foundation beefed to the press in the mid-1990s about the radicalization of their family fortunes by hand-picked boards of directors. I recall the Chicago Tribune running a series of such articles back then, but no such inquiry seems to arouse the tepid souls of editorial boards these days. The Annenburg Foundation, once a rock-ribbed conservative entity was handed over to the likes of Bill Ayers and folded into the Woods Fund Web. No story there.

Recently Hull House caved in under the burden of . . . well, someone is asking. Dennis Byrne, an old timey news guy, takes hard look at why that well-larded CHARITY went alewive.

Take Chicago's historic Hull House, the "crown jewel of settlement houses," which went belly up. A tragedy, indeed. The conventional, and correct, wisdom is that it became too dependent on government largesse. Yet, it's too easy to blame someone else, namely the stingy government.

The signs were there. The Better Business Bureau, in its last review of Hull House, found that it failed to meet some standards for charity accountability. It cited insufficient board oversight, lack of transparency in certain financial matters and inadequate reporting of its activities.

In 2009, the federal Pension BenefitGuaranty Corp.announced its takeover of Hull House's pension plan, whose liabilities for employees and retirees amounted to $11.1 million. Hull House Executive Director Clarence Wood at the time called the group's financial position solid, saying, "We are not about to close our doors."

And why would he want to? According to the last public disclosure I could find (2008), he was paid $283,000. As much as that might surprise many people laboring in the vineyards of public service for much more modest sums, it's not that unusual for nonprofit bosses. Scanning public records, I discovered top salaries and benefits in many Chicago-area nonprofits were in the reasonable, if not humble range. Then there were those that zoomed into the stratosphere, from $300,000 annually to a good deal more than $1 million. You can, and should, check out your favorite charity by examining its Internal Revenue Service Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax), available on the Economic Research Institute and other Internet sites.

Those high salaries rile Rick Roberts, who received from President George H.W. Busha Point of Light award for his work in the 1990s as CEO of the former Chicago Christian Industrial League, a social service agency serving the homeless.

"The CEO of any tax exempt charity must be held to a higher standard," he said. "With limited private dollars available and massive public budget deficits, why should any organization receive preferential tax treatment, let alone expect tax deductible private donations when the key people in that organization are enriching themselves, even if it's legal?

Roberts wanted to make clear that he wasn't indicting all nonprofits, naming Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army as examples of organizations serving the needy without enriching their employees or CEOs. Others may pay high salaries but do an especially good job, such as the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It's "doing not only a remarkable service but doing so to save money for hundreds of other nonprofits," he said.

Roberts sees too many nonprofits gaming the system, such as Illinois hospital executives plunging into debt to fund exorbitant expansions, and not incidentally to justify their plush salaries. He also warns about the increasing trend of nonprofits turning their operations over to for-profits so they can avoid the IRS' Form 990 disclosure requirements.

"If your goal in life is to help the poor rebuild their lives and heal their minds or bodies by working in a charitable endeavor, then accept the fact that you're not in the private sector where capitalist standards of compensation are an appropriate goal," he said. "It doesn't mean paying pauper wages. Just reasonable ones."

Today the belly-up museum and charity boasts the fine contributions to urban living by the Conservative Vice Lords. Charities -the bigger ones, always managed to attract program directors who spent far too much time with the Testors Glue tubes in youth. Thus, one can also understand its failure to attract any public willing to toss away a ten-spot, or more to honor gang-bangers, or other miscreants and perverts in a celebration of diversity.

Dennis Byrne, a Chicago writer, blogs in The Barbershop at ChicagoNow. dennis@dennisbyrne.net

Patty Blagojevich, briefly, received a pretty handsome pay package for her experience as a fund-raiser, but the board of CCIL took a real hard look at that salary once her hubby did the perp-walk.

Hull House was founded by Jane Addams and her special friend Ellen Gates Starr in 1889 with a donation of the mansion by the Hull Family and help from her Alderman Johnny Powers. Jane Addmas, as phony and homely an old broad as ever wore a page-boy, really saw her settlement house 'take off' after the 1904 Stockyard Strike. Jane and her short-haired activist intimates sold out the strikers - it's in the Chicago Tribune by the way.

Charity is good business. Dennis Byrne is doing a great job in calling public attention to the disconnect - philathropy and business . . .monkey business.


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