The Save A Life Foundation Story: Featuring $850K in Unreported Government Grants

This is about what happens when governments, both state and federal, pump money into a politically connected enterprise with little accountability on both ends. If you're an Illinois taxpayer, be advised: Reading this may raise your blood pressure. 

On June 9, 2010, the American Thinker reviewed how the now-defunct Chicago suburb-based Save A Life Foundation (SALF) was founded under false pretenses, promoted by Chicago and national news outlets, and supported by some big politicians -- mostly from Illinois. AT also noted how SALF, with bipartisan political backing, tapped into several money rivers flowing from state and federal agencies.

Turns out, on further investigation, that not only were the rivers that flowed money into SALF deep, but they are also elusive to track. Here's that part of the SALF story -- the follow the money part.

If you add up SALF's required annual accounting to the Illinois Attorney General (AG)'s Charitable Trust Bureau throughout its lifetime (1993-2009) for government grant monies it received, the total is $7,856,869. Grant monies SALF got from private entities pale in significance and are reported under another headine.

But when you ask the four Illinois State granting agencies -- including $25,000 from the Attorney General's office during a previous administration, the state agency tasked to monitor Illinois charities -- and one federal agency, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC/HHS), how much they gave to SALF and add up the numbers, the total is $8,710,578. 

In the old math, that was a discrepancy of $853,709, or about a 10% reporting error. That's if it is a reporting error, and not evidence of something more...well, more nefarious. But then, the corruption of public monies in Illinois is practically unheard of -- as rare as, say, road repairs on I-294 between Chicago and Indiana.

Want more details? Download this Excel spreadsheet and find these: the annual incomes SALF reported on its AG Form 990s and corresponding IRS Form 990s (except for the last two reporting periods when no IRS 990 was submitted to the AG, as is required); a list of the granting agencies, along with the e-mail addresses, of officials who responded to queries about grants to SALF from their agencies; links to documents (the longest is 472 pages) provided by those agencies in response to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests; and links to e-mail exchanges with agency officials who confirmed the total grant amounts their agency gave SALF. Enjoy.

Here's what you'll discover. Documentation of how SALF spent the grant money they received ranges from slim to none. Where it does exist, reporting narratives are replete with vagaries and unsubstantiated claims made by SALF. My wife retains better records from our honeymoon, which happened over four decades ago.

The Form 990s submitted to the AG by SALF contain significant internal inconsistencies. For example, here are two pages from their 2001 submission to the AG's office. Did the $870,000 grant received in fiscal year 2001 come from the IL Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA), as listed on one document, or from the federal CDC/HHS, as listed on another? Maybe it depends on whether you're reporting the numbers to the IL AG or to the IRS. And does anybody at the IL AG's Charitable Trust Bureau even read the documents that charities submit each year? Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Nowadays, the memory among SALF's former political supporters in Illinois is as sketchy as the granting agencies accounting of how SALF spend their money. When the critical light began to shine on SALF, the pols ran for the shadows. For example, just phone the offices of IL Democrat U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, IL Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate), and Democrat State Senator Donne Trotter, long a supporter of SALF in the Illinois Senate, and ask their staffs about their bosses' support of SALF. What little you'll be told, if anything, will fit on that tiny strip of paper inside a fortune cookie. 

Is it any wonder that the State of Illinois is in financial trouble?