An Open Letter to WGN's Mark Suppelsa

You aired what you referred to as an “investigative” report on WGN last night regarding the misuse of State funds from the income tax check off boxes.  We use the quotes because it is hard to think of matters that occurred two years ago and were previously reported on as investigative journalism.

As two moms who are the most involved with the creation and development of the Illinois Childhood Cancer Research Fund, new to the Schedule G check off funds as of tax year 2012, we find your report seriously lacking and potentially gravely detrimental to Illinois children with cancer, not to mention the other worthy causes represented on Schedule G that will also suffer at the hands of your one sided reporting.

Before we address some issues that your report raised, let us just be clear that we feel our cause of helping to generate greatly needed funds for pediatric cancer research has been thrown under the bus of Illinois partisan politics, and that you were the willing tool that accomplished the dirty work of Illinois politicians.  To be caught in the cross hairs of elected officials and their political games saddens us immensely.

For the record, the practice of sweeping and “borrowing” of money from these charitable funds is despicable, deceitful, and a complete breach of trust of the Illinois tax payer.  Our elected officials should be ashamed of themselves.  And trust us that as we lobbied for a spot on the 2012 tax form this matter and the history of deceit and misappropriation was both considered and discussed.

Despite that, we moved forward, successfully securing a much sought after spot on the Illinois 2012 tax form.  This was significant work and took a lot of effort, especially considering we are not a part of the Springfield system, but two Chicago moms with the misfortune of having a child diagnosed with cancer.  All we asked of our legislators in our appeal was the opportunity to reach out to Illinois tax payers and allow them to help Illinois children with cancer by donating a dollar or more of their expected tax refund.

This leads us to our disputed points in your story:

  • You repeatedly referred to Illinois charities in your report.  The Illinois Childhood Cancer Research Fund, along with most other check boxes, are not free standing charities.  The Illinois Childhood Cancer Research Fund, as stated, is a group of committed moms who saw a need and found a creative way to reach out to Illinois tax payers.
  • You stated that you "learned" the funds would not even go directly to the charities themselves, and instead be subjected to the "red tape of Springfield", implying this was misleading.  NO, they will not, nor would they ever have.  We petitioned the State of Illinois to establish a fund where Illinois scientists could petition for grant money to fund science directly related to pediatric cancer.  We knew every step of the way that all monies raised would stay in State accounts until qualifying research studies applied and were granted funds.  When your colleague Dina Blair did a report on our efforts last month, she clearly stated this fact.   A true investigative reporter would know that, and not suggested otherwise.
  • Your report, in a very confusing manner, lumps the dozen or so charitable funds in with “700 or so” other Illinois funds like the gas tax and doctor fees.  Charitable causes that qualify to be represented on the Illinois income tax form have no relationship whatsoever to those separate funds and taxes.
  • Your report stated clearly that over $14 million has been donated by Illinois tax payers for military families.  In 2010 and 2011, approximately $400K of those funds were misappropriated by the Illinois House and Senate.  That practice has not continued, yet your story has the power to cripple donations for Illinois military families in the 2012 tax year.  If a minimum of $100K is not donated on an annual basis, these funds vanish, no longer to appear on the following year’s tax form.  Does putting those counted upon funds raised for military families in jeopardy make you feel like you’ve done a good job?  The real story, a true “investigative” report, would have addressed what has occurred since 2011, namely, the cleaning up of this reprehensible practice.
  • Why was not a single representative from any of the charitable causes interviewed?  Not a single one.  These are causes and campaigns that are easily identified with a Google search.  We believe it is an extremely relevant POV to seek.  How DOES the Illinois Military Family Fund feel about their misappropriations in 2010 and 2011?  Why do they continue to petition the State on an annual basis for that very sought out spot on the tax form?  This, perhaps, is the greatest flaw in your partisan story.  If you are a true investigator, why do you not seek out those most affected by the actions of the Illinois House and Senate?
  • To the best of our knowledge, NO Illinois charitable cause or campaign has opted out of this check off box donation program when the sweeping practice was uncovered in 2011.  The reason being is that it is an effective way to access much needed funds for such worthy causes through the generosity of Illinois tax payers.  We are not government entities nor do we condone corrupt government practices.  These causes and campaigns are run by individuals working hard to make a difference in Illinois.

For this to have been a fair and balanced story, different than the partisan piece you aired last night, you needed to do your job.  But you didn’t, Mr. Suppelsa.  Instead, you jeopardized the many, many groups, causes, and individuals that benefit from these funds across the State of Illinois.  The true losers in this story are not Governor Quinn or Leader Madigan or even the Illinois tax payer.  Those that have the most to lose from your shoddy, biased journalism are children with cancer, Alzheimer’s patients, abused children, homeless individuals and families, military families, diabetes patients, breast cancer patients, and others that look to these charitable donations for support.  With a single six minute report, sensationalized to run at the opening of the newscast, you have put all of that in jeopardy.

We suggest a follow-up report, utilizing your investigative skills, to uncover the good that these funds have done over the years, the families and patients who have benefited from their existence, the scientific strides that have been made, the families that can now feed their children, the women surviving their breast cancer diagnosis, the military families that can support themselves through unemployment – that would be some good reporting, and tell a full and complete story.

 

Most sincerely,

 

Laura L. and Sheila Q.

Illinois Childhood Cancer Research Fund       

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

Leave a comment