THE WATCHDOGS: State won’t explain ‘Chicago Fire’ tax credits

SHARE THE WATCHDOGS: State won’t explain ‘Chicago Fire’ tax credits

Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide in an episode from season 4 of “Chicago Fire.” | NBC

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration issued $15.9 million in tax credits for the hit TV show “Chicago Fire” late last year, but state officials no longer will release the names of the Illinois residents and businesses the show hired to get those tax breaks.

That’s a departure from last year, when the state released the names and amounts the producers of “Chicago Fire” spent on actors, extras, crew and businesses that worked on the series’ pilot episode in 2012. Those records detailed expenditures including $215,161 to Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, $6,200 to the Chicago Fire Department for “fire equipment” and $272 to Nordstrom for two pairs of shoes for the character Kelly Severide, played by actor Taylor Kinney.

But NBCUniversal Media, which owns the show, has now convinced Rauner administration lawyers that releasing such information about episodes since then would violate “trade secrets,” according to a July 8 letter attorney Patrick M. Callahan sent to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan explaining the state’s refusal to provide the information to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“NBCUniversal objected to the disclosure of information that was proprietary, the release of which would yield competitive harm,” Callahan wrote. “In light of the foregoing, the department agreed with NBCUniversal’s claims that this information was exempt” from release under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Madigan’s staff is reviewing the Sun-Times’ appeal of the Rauner administration’s decision.

Without seeing the records, it’s impossible for the public to know, for instance, whether politically connected people are benefiting from the series’ taxpayer-supported spending. Expenditures on the pilot episode of “Chicago Fire,” for example, included $57,810 paid to William T. Hogan III, son of the former Teamsters Local 714 boss, to work as a “driver captain/trans coord.”


Callahan said the state previously released the information for the “Chicago Fire” pilot because NBCUniversal didn’t include a “standard letter requesting confidentiality protection” when it applied for its first tax credit, which totaled nearly $1.6 million and was awarded in 2013.

Illinois offers 30 percent tax credits to TV and movie producers who spend at least $100,000 on Illinois goods and services and to TV commercial producers who spend at least $50,000. Producers also can get 30 percent credits on wages of up to $100,000 for each worker — including actors — who has an Illinois driver’s license or state ID before filming starts.

Since the Illinois General Assembly created the program in 2008, the state film office had awarded a total of 1,095 tax credits totaling $268 million, records show, as of the end of April.

Other big tax credits last year went to the movie “Divergent,” which got $11.5 million, and for the pilot episode of the hit Fox TV series “Empire,” which got $1.5 million.

To get the tax credits, applicants must provide documentation that the credit will save them money compared to filming in at least one other state. Producers have up to two years after they spend their last dollar on a production to submit an audit showing how much they spent in Illinois.

State officials review that audit, then the state film office issues the credits, which have to be used within five years. Many production companies are based out of state and don’t pay Illinois’ state income tax, so they sell the credits to businesses and individuals that do pay taxes here.

The film office says the program helped generate $330 million in spending statewide in 2015, up 18 percent over the previous year, and created thousands of jobs.

So far, the state has awarded “Chicago Fire” $17.4 million in credits for the 24 episodes in the show’s first season. There have been no credits issued for the series’ following three seasons. Nor have credits been issued for its sister shows, “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Med.”

The documents the Sun-Times obtained last year for the “Chicago Fire” pilot showed expenditures to Chicago actors including Amy Morton and Joe Minoso, as well as to Chicago firefighters who served as extras and consultants.

Records obtained for another TV series, “Mob Wives Chicago,” showed producers got a $2 million credit for expenditures including nearly $4,000 to exhume the body of reputed mob hit man Frank “The German” Schweihs.

Producers of the movie “Transformers: Age of Extinction” spent $415,381 for rooms at Trump International Hotel & Tower. In all, they were awarded a $6.1 million credit.

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