District 65's Improper PAC Donation
Live in Evanston? Congrats, you donated a fraction of a penny to the Illinois Superintendent PAC!
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On March 18, 2022 Dr. Horton donated $100 to the Illinois School Administrators Political Action Committee (IPAC). This donation was made using the District 65 Corporate MasterCard and records were obtained via FOIA. I wrote about this story briefly in a previous post on the District 65’s extensive food expenses.
The donation was made despite the following attestation on the page to donate to IPAC. The attestation is there because donating to a PAC from public funds is unethical and probably illegal.1
Essentially this means if you’re an Evanston taxpayer, donated a few pennies or less (depending on your tax rates) to IPAC. Congrats!
I reached out to IPAC who issued the following statement:
It is our understanding Dr. Horton mistakenly used his district credit card instead of a personal funds to make a contribution to IPAC. As soon as IASA learned of this matter, we began the process of refunding the money to Evanston/Skokie School District 65.
Furthermore, I inquired when they learned of the improper donation
We learned of it when you brought it to our attention.
This was on April 20, 2023.
So what, Tom? It’s $100 - big deal!
Here’s where the story gets interesting. When I FOIA’ed the May 2022 MasterCard Bill back in November 2022, it included a single page with only the following note;
This evidence shows on November 11, 2022, the District was at least aware of the improper changes. However the District did not actually challenge the expense as they noted, since IPAC didn’t know until I brought it to their attention. Furthermore, I have reason to believe the note was only added at the time of my FOIA Request (!!!).
Why do I believe this? Let’s explore another bill that I am currently awaiting decision (for six months now) with District 65 and the IL Attorney General PAC.
This bill was for $638.48 for repairs to a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu charged to the MasterCard for District 65’s “Head of Culture and Climate”2. Since District 65 does not own a fleet (they rent from the City of Evanston), I FOIA’ed additional records related to this charge. In particular, I requested copies of the approval records (all charges must be approved by the Superintendent) and copies of the records indicating reimbursement was made.
The District denied my request and cited the charges were for a homeless student and they were unable to provide any such records without. In Illinois, Districts do have some leverage to provide financial assistance to homeless students but it is unclear to me whether they can provide this type of automotive repair assistance. You can read the denial written by the District’s attorneys below. Note the areas I have highlighted in red.3
With the automotive bill, the District indicates they had a sticky note4 saying it was “Credited Reimbursed to D65” at the time of my FOIA but not at the time of the FOIA challenge (December 27, 2022). The District further claims the sticky note was to “verify that the charge would be reimbursed’ through grant funds,” however they refuse to provide me with proof of such reimbursement and I await the IL AG PAC determination.5
Back to the original $100 PAC donation, I believe they likely did the same thing - included a sticky note in the FOIA response, indicating they would challenge the charge. However, given that IPAC was unaware of this challenge, they likely never did so. I’m left wondering if the District has financial controls at all, or just the appearance of financial controls when some guy FOIAs the records.
I FOIA’ed only a single month of receipts, so who knows if the problem is more or less expansive. It wasn’t just the Horton Administration with big MasterCard bills. In fact, the Goren Administration’s spending on the MasterCard exceeded the Horton administration by quite a bit! It is anyone’s guess if PAC donations or other improper charges were included then as well (not to mention food expenses hidden).
The (mostly) hidden charges on the District’s MasterCard remain the 14th largest expenditure, surpassed only pension payments, teacher compensation, and transportation expenses.
I reached out to the District for comment on April 20, 2023 and received no reply.
A Brief Note on the Comment Section
I’ve implemented a new rule on the FOIAGRAS comment section. After a story, I will leave the comment section open to the public for 3-4 days. After that, I will close the comment section only to paid subscribers. If you would like to comment or argue about any older stories, please do that on some other platform, like Facebook or Twitter. It remains a bannable offense to shitpost about national political issues in my comment section. Go take that garbage to Facebook.
I can only read so many statutes per month, so if anyone knows the specific statute that covers this, please let me know. Preferably from the IL state laws.
My understanding is that functionally, this person is head of facilities.
I have appealed this denial and await decision from the PAC office (Letter: 2022 PAC 74378).
Ignore that a sticky note would’ve actually obscured the text beneath it, unless it was some kind of clear sticky note. Clearly, the lines below around around the note are still visible. It’s not clear to me how this could actually be a sticky note.
To be honest, it’s unclear if I will ever receive a determination on this. The IL PAC has indicated that they are so backlogged, that they cannot provide an estimate of completion. If you are a lawyer and would like to donate some Pro-Bono time to litigate FOIA cases, please contact me.