Chicago Mayoral Candidate Uses Loophole to Get $1.1M Pension
April 3, 2023
Chicago Mayoral Candidate Brandon Johnson, a former Chicago Public Schools Employee, is expected to receive a $1.1 million pension, despite only teaching in the classroom for four years, according to Illinois Policy Institute.
Johnson was social studies teacher from 2008 to 2011. Since then, he’s focused on activism and lobbying for the teachers union. Johnson has made $390,000 over the last five years for his role as legislative director for the Chicago Teachers’ Union.
Typically, teachers must teach for five years to be eligible for a pension, but Illinois Policy Institute found that Johnson exploited a loophole. The Illinois Pension Code allows Johnson to accumulate creditable service towards his pension as a result of his employment with the union, despite not being a school employee.
He will be eligible to retire at age 62 with full benefits, and since his pension will be based off his much higher union legislator director salary, he is expected to collect a pension of $1.1 million, the Institute found.
Johnson’s mayoral campaign has seen substantial support from the powerful union leadership, with the union giving his campaign a $931,000 loan, which it claims will be repaid. Other powerful unions teamed up with the CTU to support Johnson, resulting in 95% of his campaign funding coming from unions, according to Illinois Policy Institute.
Illinois’ pension system is on the ropes, and people trying to game the system by exploiting loopholes to collect massive pension payouts hurts the young civil servants whose future payments are in jeopardy as a result of a problematic system.
PACT Act Will Cost $130B More Than Expected
April 4, 2023
The PACT Act, a new law that expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances, will cost $130 billion more than expected.
The act faced a contentious battle on Capitol Hill last summer, with veterans camping out on the steps of the Capitol, and Jon Stewart delivering impassioned speeches knocking Republicans for blocking it, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The legislation itself isn’t controversial, with the bill mainly expanding health coverage for veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits post-9/11.
While the content of the bill saw broad bipartisan support, the method and amount drew some scrutiny from fiscally conservative Republicans, objecting to making it “mandatory spending,” meaning Congress would never vote to reauthorize it. The price tag also drew some concerns.
At the time, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan nonprofit that estimates the cost of legislation, estimated the bill would cost $667 billion. While the cost was steep, the Senate broadly supported it, and the bill passed 86-11. Now, the CBO has recalculated the total cost, and found that it will likely cost $797 billion— $130 billion more than it originally projected.
The CBO didn’t provide an official explanation for the update. Irrespective of the reason for the update, legislators had the impression this would cost far less when they voted on it.
Accurate cost estimates are vital to informed debate on spending and legislation, and legislators and the public should feel confident the price they’re told a bill will cost is correct.
Nashville DA Spends $32K on Cameras to Spy On Public, Employees
April 5, 2023
Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk’s office is under investigation by the Tennessee Attorney General for recording audio of visitors and employees without their knowledge, and spending $32,000 on cameras, according to an Open the Books investigation.
The DA’s office bought $32,000 worth of cameras and supportive equipment from October 2020 to August 2021 from vendor Southern Contracting, and records show some of the cameras have audio capabilities.
The cameras were installed in the DA’s offices, though neither public visitors nor employees were made aware of some of the cameras’ audio capabilities. The Tennessee Attorney General’s office is investigating whether these cameras with audio capabilities violate wiretapping laws, though the DA’s office has countered that “there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for conversation in public areas,” implying all the cameras were strictly in public areas.
Open the Books investigated the purchase of these cameras, obtaining 16 invoices detailing the purchase and installation of these cameras, though Southern Contracting claims they never installed them, despite “install” appearing on multiple invoices.
The invoices are billed to Randall Ladd, a special project manager who received special access to all of the video feeds in his personal office, according to the invoices. Six invoices totaling $4,179 were redacted, hiding what service or equipment was being paid for.
The DA has denied any wrongdoing, claiming in a letter responding to the AG that, “We have never conducted any unauthorized audio or video recording of any area where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy.”
The DA’s office wasn’t transparent in installing these cameras, continues to be opaque by hiding details of some invoices, and should draw questions about the way this office is using its taxpayer funding.
Throwback Thursday: DOD Spent Lavishly to Entertain Foreign Dignitaries
April 6, 2023
In 1986, the Department of Defense spent $873,663 – over $2.4 million in 2023 dollars – to party with foreign dignitaries at lavish events.
Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, awarded the DOD his Golden Fleece Award for this extravagant spending.
Proxmire recalls an event in Washington where Soviet leaders spent $15,000 at the spa at the Watergate Hotel before running up $1,200 in room bar charges on the last day of their stay.
In another event at the Watergate Hotel, Moroccan officials racked up $500 in long distance telephone charges that they had agreed to pay for, but never did, with the Moroccan Embassy telling U.S. officials to go to Morocco if they wanted to collect the payment. The total cost of this event was over $32,000.
There are countless similar stories. An Italian delegation spent $6,266 over five nights at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. A Colombian official charged taxpayers $15,724 for a junket in Florida that included a rental yacht and an air boat tour of the Everglades. The Republic of Korea billed the U.S. $51,724 for a conference, which included a $46 charge for spare rental car keys, which even the U.S. government called wasteful.
Officials defended the spending as vital to maintaining friendly relations with U.S. allies, though as Proxmire points out, these countries must not respect us if they are insultingly taking advantage of U.S. hospitality.
While there may be a place for entertaining foreign dignitaries at official functions, these exuberant junkets on the taxpayer dime aren’t improving international relations.
State Department to Spend $300K on Media in Montenegro
April 7, 2023
Montenegro media outlets and non-governmental organizations are eligible to apply for these grants, with a goal to select organizations “that adhere to high professional standards in their reporting and/or activities and have a record of trustworthiness and success.” The State Department intends to issue multiple grants between $30,000 and $70,000, and intends to spend $300,000 overall. Projects should take about a year to complete.
The Biden Administration is ever focused on climate change and diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of its grants. It suggests topics for investigative journalism in this grant, including those with a focus on the rule of law, environmental protection, strengthening democratic institutions, human and minority rights, and gender equality. It also recommends projects help citizens, “ultimately reject disinformation.”
It’s ironic that America is funding clinics on journalistic integrity and professionalism abroad when Americans’ trust in domestic media outlets is at a near record low, with just 34% of Americans trusting our own media to fully, accurately, and fairly describe the news, according to a Gallup poll.
With numbers like these, maybe America should find ways to fix its own media problems before throwing money to the Balkans.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.