Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Plot Thickens

Hmm, someone's not telling the truth here.  Here are the facts.  Draw your own conclusions:
  • The IRS really doesn't like it when non-profits and charities that have asked for a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status get involved with issues and candidates.
  • A commenter told us that the Retta campaign event at the Voice of the People building at 847 W Sunnyside was canceled immediately upon discovering that it had been advertised as sponsored by VoP, yet neighbors saw petitions being signed there and candidate Retta there.
  • A Voice of the People employee told a commenter that VoP would never sponsor such an event and that the flyering was "an off-road adventure by an over-enthusiastic resident" and was not the work of the candidate or VoP.
  • Candidate Retta works for Cook County Clerk's Office Election Department and presumably knows the rules pertaining to elections and non-profits very well.
  • Voice of the People, as a 501(c)(3), presumably also knows the rules well and should be guarding its very valuable tax-exempt status, because it owns an awful lot of buildings that don't pay property taxes.
So knowing all that... check out Befekadu Retta's website of events.  This screen shot was taken at 12:34pm today.  It's very disappointing to see that some just don't get it -- we want a clean election.  We want an ethical alderman.  We want fair play.  We're sick of favoritism and rule-breaking.  Yet, we're getting a song and a dance and lot of lies.

click to enlarge
Update:  By 1:15pm, the event was deleted off the website.  Thanks for being such dedicated readers, Retta campaign!  And even if it was wiped off the website, it wasn't like it was never there.  You can delete it, but Google cache lives on.  And so do screen shots.


  1. That snapshot shows there was a previous event sponsored by VOP on 10/30.

    But, if you type "voice site:" into a google search box, you'll see (in the description under the one and only link that is found) another past posting mentioning a VOP sponsored event on 10/28.

    Of course, if you click the link you get the current page mentioning neither of these dates as a past event. Was there really two VOP sponsored events??

  2. Damn, too bad they didn't get caught by the IRS. I'd love to see them start paying property taxes. Maybe then they would care more about who rents from them and how well their buildings are maintained.

  3. Thanks for the screen shot. Of course the offending material has since been removed.

  4. The Thickened Plot Thickens?

    This 1995 Tribune article mentions a housing development by Voice of the People, with Retta as President of its homeowners association:

    An Ethnic Cornucopia Builds its own Future

  5. From Ritta's website:
    JOIN ME AT THE UNC Aldermanic Forum
    Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
    Nick's Uptown
    4015 Sheridan Ave.
    Doors Open at 6:30pm
    Forum starts promptly at 7pm

    I wonder how he'll respond if asked about this VOP event?

  6. When I've read these two posts, I've found myself yelling at the computer monitor - "SHENANIGANS!"

    Seriously, though - I hope it's not intentional on the candidate's part and just a mistake made by a supporter that does not know better. I'd feel better about the whole thing if he publicly addressed it. I'm not going to vote for someone that ignores these types of concerns.

  7. This is ridiculous, not only because this candidate was trying to play fast and loose with the rules, but because they attempted to "cover it up" after the fact without addressing the error. The could have come out and said "whoops, you're all right, we shouldn't have done that, we made a mistake." That, I could accept with some saccharine. But to react the way they did indicates to me that this candidate is from the old school of Chicago politics. I don't want this sort of politician representing my district.

  8. anyone in touch with the IRS?

  9. i think the bigger concern is VOP and not the candidate. just my opinion.

  10. Some folks on the Ethiopian Forum had an interesting comment regarding Mr. Retta..

  11. Sounds like someone is just looking for an "ESCAPE GOAT" in all this...

    ...and another thing, what is with the asking prices of some of these fundraisers? For 1500 bucks I better get you driving around in a Kates Security car after you are elected.

  12. I sure wish Suzanne Elder would come on here and comment... she is suddenly very quiet..

  13. Perhaps Suzanne Elder found an escape goat and fled down Lake Shore Drive.

    I suggest checking the Farm at the Zoo for any signs of an extra goat.

    I'm sure she'll comment here.

    Like athlete's foot or PJ Paulus she will always return.

    Tippecanoe and Befekadu too!

  14. Hero, I was momentarily stunned into silence. This is astonishing crap passing for intrigue. The plot hasn't thickened, you're just stirring the pot.

    VOP didn't say that this "appears to be an off-road adventure by an over-enthusiastic resident." I did. And they didn't say anything about whether Retta was responsible for the flyer or not.

    They simply did not speculate. But you are and your conclusion is that someone must be lying because residents signed petitions? Retta visited his former neighbors? Please. None of what you've produced here proves misconduct.

    At the very least, before you let another logical fallacy take flight, take the time to make a few phone calls and verify some information before calling people liars.

    Failing to do that just makes you look like you're intent on jamming up a candidate and organization for your own political purposes.

  15. Suzie, you came back..yea! Just a couple of quick notes.. 1 .)Get your facts straight.. you are attributing quotes to me that I did not make. 2.) I notice how you completely ignored the changes to the web site. 3.) VOP spends MY tax money and got MY property tax money through the Wilson Yard you are damn right I am interesting in this tax-exempt organization! Any good American should be.. there are reasons there are rules, Suzie Q. Just because you and your friends do not want to play by them doesnt make you exempt.. it makes organizations that don't follow the rules the next scandal... Love ya, can't wait to see what dribble you spout next! MUAH

  16. To piggy back off Suzanne's comment about looking "like you're intent on jamming up a candidate and organization for your own political purposes," I would challenge you to apply your ethical standard to the other campaigns and non-profit groups in the 46th Ward.

    For example, the Uptown Neighborhood Council (UNC) has sponsored aldermanic forums and you have not made one peep about this organization's activity threatening its non-profit status.

    You also fail to say anything about the simple fact that sponsoring a meet & greet is not the same thing officially endorsing or actively campaigning for that person's election to office.

    What say you to that?

  17. Q -- Please read the comments in the previous Retta post and you will see:

    Voice of the People is a 501c3. It is not allowed to do anything political, including holding - or not holding - a meet and greet for one particular candidate, particularly one who used to work for them.

    Uptown Neighborhood Council is a 501c4. They are allowed to do political things, like hold forums for the candidates -- all the candidates -- to speak.

    One of the differences is that donations to a 501c3 are tax deductible. Donations to a 501c4 are not.

    Sorry, no agenda here, except to have a clean election, with everyone following the rules. We are sick of "business as usual" in the 46th Ward.

  18. But don't take our word for it, read what the IRS has to say about "meet and greets:

    Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

    Allowing a candidate to use an organization’s assets or facilities will also violate the prohibition if other candidates are not given an equivalent opportunity.

    Candidate Appearances

    Depending on the facts and circumstances, an organization may invite political candidates to speak at its events without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status.

    Speaking as a Candidate

    When a candidate is invited to speak at an organization event as a political candidate, the organization must take steps to ensure that:

    It provides an equal opportunity to political candidates seeking the same office;
    • It does not indicate any support for or opposition to the candidate (this should be stated explicitly when the candidate is introduced and in communications concerning the candidate’s attendance);
    • No political fundraising occurs.

    You can read much more more at the IRS's website.

    You might find the part on candidate forums interesting. Even if UNC were a 501c3, which it is not, it looks as if they would be in compliance with the IRS regulations.

  19. Q & Suzanne were so quick with their first responses, but I think Caring Neighbor seems to have carried the day! Way to go CN!

  20. It does not appear to be that much of a roaring scandle here folks.

    Is it possible just the measly mention of the organization "Voice of the People" rankles these skeptical pauedo-lawyer-types among us?

    Just for the record there wasn't any money or services involved right? What if it said "invited by" instead of "sponsored by"? there even a difference?

    Would the universe remain stable in such a scenario...?

    OK...I guess you can roast me now.....


  21. @ Jeffrey Littleton

    The event itself really isn't a big deal. But what it reveals about this candidate is important.

    It reveals that this candidate is willing to participate in a borderline illegal event, so long as it benefits his candidacy. It also reveals that this candidate would rather silently remove something from their website than openly admit to the appearance of impropriety and apologize.

  22. Jeffery, the fact that this subject has generated so many different responses means that there is a perception that something unethical happened.

    Befekadu may be guilty of nothing, but the perception is there and as a candidate for public office, he needs to clear that up because the tax exempt status of a not-for-profit organization that provides low income housing should not be taken lightly. Caring Neighbor's research of IRS rules only confirms the concerns that others already share.

  23. Hey, Jeff, I guarantee you that VOTP's universe would become unstable if it's tax exempt status is lost. Who knows, maybe the candidate is exagerating the level of support and they're innocent bystanders??? What we're getting is a whole lot of deleting and no explanations.

  24. Caring Neighbor,

    Oh my, your post cracked me up. Rob R. Your comment was great also.

    We all know what they are trying to do, they are trying to have it both ways. Really disgusting.

  25. As someone who has audited 501(c)(3) organizations for a good portion of my career, all I can say is this:

    If I was auditing my client and found one of these fliers, it would be my professional duty to notify the IRS. It would be up to the IRS to sort out the intent.

  26. Suzanne? Q? You there?

    Personally I don't fault the candidate as I doubt he knows the legal structure of the organization and if it's 501(c)3 or 4. But, the organization has an absolute responsibility and accountability.

    Has anyone asked them for a comment?

    Given the quick responses to these fliers, I think a Thank You is in order for Uptown Update for keeping watch on our hood.

  27. As Suzanne pointed out, we don't know what happened, but it just doesn't smell right.

    VotP's logo didn't appear anywhere, so they may not have known that "sponsorship" was being claimed.

    A resident may have invited Retta to a meet-and-greet without realizing the tax ramifications for VotP.

    But someone claimed the event was cancelled, which it apparently was not.

    Retta claimed on his website that the event was sponsored by VotP, which puts VotP on the hot seat. Rather than explaining, the language was deleted within a half hour of UU's posting about it.

    I'm not going to say VotP had much to do with this, although they may have, but

    Something REALLY doesn't smell right.

    Just an aside, surely we can disagree without being in each other's faces. When the election has come and gone, we're still neighbors who see each other every day.