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IG questions donations to Maggie Daley charity

October 4, 2011 4:14:53 PM PDT
Besides being Chicago's first lady, Maggie Daley is best known for establishing the city's After School Matters program.

Now, Chicago's inspector general, Joe Ferguson, is raising questions about donations to the charity. These questionable contributions are linked to tax increment finance districts also known as TIFs.

TIFs are special areas designated around the city where tax money is pulled out general funds and placed into a special pocket that can be used to redevelop a specific area. For years, that money went to simple things like buying a street sweeper or new lighting. But these days, corporations frequently benefit from the tax dollars. The city inspector general has found those corporations were told to get the TIF, they had to make a charitable donation, in some cases, to very specific charities.

The Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and local libraries were just some of the recipients of the charity set-asides. But none benefited as much as the pet project of former Chicago first lady.

After School Matters is a much praised program that teaches city kids the value of art, education and collaboration. But the new report by Chicago's inspector general finds After School Matters was second from the top in terms of non-profits that benefited from a perhaps unstated Daley administration rules that required businesses who received TIF money to donate a portion to charity.

"The form and beneficiary was something that was dropped on them very late in the process after they had already cleared the initial approval process and were working out the fine points," said Ferguson.

In all, companies earmarked $915,000 of their TIF money for After School Matters.

In addition, three non-profits with close ties to former Mayor Daley were on the clout list, and some aren't exactly community-based charities.

The U.S Conference of Mayors, of which Daley was the chairman, got $125,000. And $50,000 went to UIC for the Richard J. Daley Library.

When the inspector general asked City Hall higher-ups how organizations wound up on the clout list, he was told no one knew.

"It's actually the program people who should be explaining to the rest of us exactly how it is and why it is that is an appropriate recipient of TIF leveraged money," said Ferguson.

The report's release came just after several aldermen and activists called for the outright abolition of TIF districts, the majority of which, they claim, benefit the connected.

"The day of reckoning on these TIFs has come. It's almost immoral," said Ald. Bob Fioretti.

"We're talking about millions of taxpayer dollars that were arbitrarily spent and not put out there for the public to see and that's what's wrong with this whole TIF program," said Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward.

A spokesperson for After School Matters insists companies were never forced to donate.

"That accusation is flat-out false," a statement reads. "And the report itself makes that point. It is also an insult to the work that former First Lady Maggie Daley continues to do for the youth of this city."

Ferguson is not suggesting the money was misused. Instead, he says it's an example of how the entire TIF program is shrouded in secrecy.

Mayor Emanuel has appointed a commission that's currently reviewing the entire TIF system.


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