BGA Public Eye: Despite ban, Rep. Jones’ charity kept fund-raising

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State Rep. Thaddeus Jones. Sun-Times file photo

A charity run by state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, was barred from raising money and ordered to cease operations for more than a year and a half.

Yet Jones Foundation Inc. continued to accept donations — totaling at least $2,750 — since the Illinois attorney general’s office ordered a halt to its operation in April 2014 for failing to file required documents with the state agency.

With a $500-a-plate fund-raising luncheon planned Nov. 30 with Mayor Rahm Emanuel as guest speaker, the charity submitted the missing paperwork and was back in good standing as of Friday, according to the attorney general’s office.

The foundation has reported total revenues since 2008 of more than $140,000, with some of that coming from Jones’ political campaign funds.

Madigan’s office has the power to file a lawsuit against unregistered charities that continue to operate. That can result in civil penalties and even permanently shutting down an organization.

Maura Possley, a Madigan spokeswoman, says the office didn’t go after Jones because the “goal is compliance.”

Now in his third term representing the 29th District, Jones has political ties to Madigan’s father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has hosted fund-raisers for him.

Possley says Jones didn’t get special treatment.

“We don’t take action unless we see something that raises red flags or there’s reason to believe the charity isn’t legitimate,” she says.

Jones, who declined an interview request, says in an email that he wasn’t aware his charity had been barred from operating or that it received money from his campaign funds.

“Those are errors made by the accounting firm,” according to Jones.

Jones began his political career in 1997, when he was elected alderman in Calumet City — a position he continues to hold, in addition to his Illinois House seat.

Five years later, he established the Jones Foundation to “create, develop and fund after-school programs for children in the community,” according to the charity’s filings with the state.

Its mission has expanded since then, according to Patrick Walsh, an attorney for Jones.

“The Jones Foundation works with community leaders and students to identify solutions to school violence, offer scholarships, assist victims of domestic abuse and provide services to residents diagnosed with HIV/AIDS,” says Walsh.

Jones started transferring money from his aldermanic campaign fund to the foundation in June 2009, records show, beginning with a $230 payment.

His political committees have made 52 payments to his charity  totaling $27,386, according to disclosure reports filed with the state elections board.

Most of those payments, which range from $50 to $2,200, are listed as loans on the quarterly and semi-annual disclosure reports. There’s no indication the foundation has repaid any of those debts.

Campaign funds generally are supposed to be used for political purposes, but state law doesn’t prohibit them from giving money to charities, according to Andy Nauman, deputy director of the Illinois elections board’s division of campaign disclosure.

There could be a problem if that campaign money ended up personally benefitting a candidate, according to Richard Means, an Oak Park attorney who specializes in election law.

“If a candidate uses campaign funds for personal use, that could violate the campaign [disclosure] act even if it’s called a loan,” says Means, who says violators, in rare instances, could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The Jones Foundation reported total revenue of $148,633 from mid-2008 to mid-2014, with total expenditures of $160,567, according to filings it’s made with the attorney general’s office, which registers charities in Illinois and collects and posts their financial data online so the public can track the organizations’ finances.

The disclosures don’t give specific information where the foundation’s money came from or how it was spent.

Walsh says Jones hasn’t personally benefited from his charity.

According to state elections board records, the Jones charity has given money to his aldermanic campaign fund — a $1,100 contribution in 2012 and a $500 loan in 2011. It also contributed $270 to the political committee of Thornton Township Assessor Cassandra Holbert.

Registered as a private, not-for-profit organization, the Jones Foundation doesn’t pay federal income taxes, and donations to the charity are tax-deductible.

One of the requirements to retain that tax-free status is that a charity can’t make contributions to political campaign funds.

An IRS spokesman would not comment.

Walsh says the state records showing the charity gave money to Jones’ aldermanic campaign fund and that of Holbert are mistaken.

“The entries were in error,” Walsh says. “There are no checks from the Jones Foundation to those political entities.”

This was written by Andrew Shroedter of the Better Government Association.

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