Monday, October 27, 2014

Sun-Times Exposes Choose Chicago's Cronyism: When Will Indianapolis Media Expose Visit Indy?

Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh with Emanuel's handpicked GOP candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner
The Chicago Sun-Times Chris Fusco has a story today about how tens of millions in public tax dollars being funneled to the City's nonprofit tourism organization, Choose Chicago, is being wasted on crony consulting contracts and over-paid salaries to its top executives. This should come as no surprise since Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped lure away Visit Indy's former CEO, Don Welsh, to run his City's organization. Emanuel's handpicked Republican candidate for governor this year, billionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner who funneled $16 million into Emanuel's pockets during his very brief career as an investment banker, chaired Choose Chicago during Welsh's early tenure at Choose Chicago. Choose Chicago has a budget of $28.4 million, $8 million of which comes from the City of Chicago while state taxpayers contribute an ever larger sum. Here's a few items Fusco's story discusses:
  • Don Welsh earned over $491,000 in the most recent year that information was made available from the nonprofit's tax returns. Welsh has contributed $1,500 to Rauner's campaign so far.
  • Five other Choose Chicago employees earned over $200,000 a year, many of whom made large campaign contributions to various campaign committees. One is a former top aide to House Speaker Mike Madigan. 
  • Nine other employees made between $125,000 and $180,000. Choose Chicago refuses to identify these employees.
  • Choose Chicago doubled the number of outside lobbying firms it hires from two to four. One of those firms is owned by Cook Co. Assessor Joe Berrios, who also doubles as the Cook Co. Democratic Party Chairman. Another firm is owned by two former aides to Mayor Richard Daley. It was paid $3,000 a month to introduce Welsh to various political and civic leaders in the Chicago area. Another form owned by William Filan, a former aide to House Speaker Madigan, is paid $48,000 a year.
  • A friend of Mayor Emanuel, Lynn Lockwood, has a $160,000 a year consulting contract.
Gov. Quinn is now telling the Sun-Times that he will support a change in state law to require Choose Chicago to make its records publicly-available since the majority of its funding comes from state and city taxpayers. Rauner, the former chairman who signed off on these crony contracts, made some gratuitous pledge to support "transparency" if he's elected governor.

Here in Indianapolis, city taxpayers are sending $9 million a year to Visit Indy to support its convention and tourism activities. Like Choose Chicago, its officials are grossly overpaid. Only Advance Indiana has bothered to make those figures publicly-available after researching the organization's tax records. Hoops' pay of $477,000 came in just below Welsh's salary. At least eight other employees of the nonprofit organization are earning more than a $100,000 a year.

Leonard Hoops, CEO (Salary-$422,000, Bonus-$55,000)--$477,000
Susan Townsend, Sr. VP, Visitor Experience (Salary-$153,000, Bonus-$28,600)--$181,600
Michelle Travis, Sr. VP, Sales (Salary-$263,000, Bonus-$42,000)--$305,000
James Wallis, Executive VP (Salary-$223,000, Bonus-$42,000)--$265,000
Matthew Carter, VP, Market Intelligence (Salary-$154,000, Bonus-$37,000)--$191,000
Dustin Arnheim, Director, Convention Sales (Salary-$138,000, Bonus-$34,000)--$172,000
Janet Arnold, VP, Partner Relationships (Salary-$173,000, Bonus-$33,000)--$206,000
Christopher Gahl, VP, Marketing/Communications (Salary-$117,000, Bonus-$32,000)--$149,000
Mary Huggard, VP, Tourism Development (Salary-$129,000, Bonus-$21,000--$150,000
After I first published those numbers, I learned from sources within Visit Indy that Hoops and his fellow executives' pay have been increased substantially over those figures. Lower level employees at the nonprofit are furious at how much their bosses are earning. The figures shown on their tax returns don't reflect the lavish perks these top Visit Indy officials also receive as part of their employment package I'm told. Many lower-level employees of the organization are also appalled at how the publicly-financed organization is able to spend our public tax dollars. Essentially, key convention planning decision-makers are bribed through lavish entertainment, travel and gifts to entice them to choose Indianapolis as the host city for their conventions according to sources within the organization. Free tickets and entertainment are also lavished on members of the Indianapolis City-County Council and other local officials so they will continue to be so generous with your tax dollars to the organization. It is time that public officials in Indianapolis demand public accountability by Visit Indy. We want full disclosure of how every penny is being spent, and we want an independent top-to-bottom audit of past expenditures to shed light on where our taxpayer dollars have been spent and to determine if the organization covered up scandals within the organization that should have been made public.


Anonymous said...

$491,000 to run a tourism office? What flagrant theft. $65,000 is far more than ample for that position and that line of work.

Anything in excess of $65,000 is just stealing from the taxpayers.

Pete Boggs said...

This Tammany Hall BS or protection racketeering is a game of bet hedging cowar-dice; by those who can't appreciate & direct their God given talent or control their own greed.

A legitimate free market economy is a civil compact; not the barbarism of lesser nature.

Anonymous said...

In answer to your question, the Indianapolis media will never expose local corruption.

The Indianapolis media believes its purpose is to help grow the city and to put the best possible face on the city. The Indianapolis media absolutely does not believe its function is to criticize and possibly harm the city.

There is no real press in Indianapolis, and any reporter here should be laughed out of an interview in any other city, except places like Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City and other small to mid-level insecure cities that don't believe the city could survive a scandal.

A car lot rolling back odometers will make the news, and they'll appear to act really tough with their reporting, but large-scale corruption occurring at the CCB or Statehouse will be ignored.

The complicit press has occurred for so long that the press would have no idea how to research and break a real story. As soon as a reporter started asking uncomfortable questions, the target would be on the phone to the editors, publishers and board members of the media outlet, and pressure would be brought to bear on the interlocking connections the press management and owners enjoy.

That is, the Star will never break a real story, because someone at the Star has a daughter who's trying to land a key internship, marry a member of the Elite, get into a good college, trying to secure a mortgage, or trying to pass through some gate to which the Elite holds the keys.

Indy's system works, as they see it, precisely because every person plays his or her assigned role. To jeopardize a part of the system is to risk crashing the entire system, so the media turns a blind eye to anything that matters, and gives extra coverage to Andrew Luck.

In a very real and practical sense of the term, Indianapolis is fascistic.

Anonymous said...

Bloated Ballard publicly maintained that City salaries for high level Administration people
had to increase (many in excess of $100,000 yearly + bennies) in order "to attract talent". This was about the time COS Ryan Vaughn's salary was boosted to more than $120,000 annually.

It is nothing short of criminal to award these types of stratospheric salaries when the taxpayers themselves make so far less than the politicians they are forced to support.

Is Indy's worst mayor so stupid as to think we taxpayers believe that BS that qualified talent can not be found for less than the astronomical salaries paid to "top level" City employees?

I agree that anything in excess of $65,000 is nothing less than stealing from the taxpayers.

Flogger said...

- When Will Indianapolis Media Expose Visit Indy? I would bet on the answer being NEVER.

Local Media may write an article about the salaries of Visit Indy, but I would be sure a massive effort would be made to justify the pay. You know the drill quoting pay to produce fluff articles by consultants, etc.

Back in the 1970's I took my first Econ Course in College. One of the Critiques concerned the "Interlocking Board Directorates" of big Wall Street Companies. That is Mr. Smith CEO of company A, sat on the board of directors of companies B and C. Boiling it down it was you scratch my back I will scratch yours, especially when it came to compensation. Elected Politicians, wives or family members could get in on the action by being on the Boards too.

The above is Blue Print for our Crony-Capitalism in Indianapolis.

The business community should be voluntarily donating to Visit Indy, since they should be the beneficiaries. However, I could understand if Joe's Hot Dog Stand in one of the townships would decide not to contribute. Thus, the necessity is created to tax everyone whether they benefit or not from Visit Indy.

I would suspect a majority of the worker bees down town working in the Hospitality Industry, are at or near minimum wage. Do they have any benefits such as affordable health care, pensions, etc?? Unionization has been and would be bitterly opposed.

A worker bee making $10.00 an hour would need to work 47,700 hours to equal the yearly remuneration of Leonard Hoops - $477,000.

Anonymous said...

Indianapolis is a Banana Republic. A BUNCH OF SCUM BAGS STEALING FROM TAXPAYERS.

Exactly like Bell, CA

Diveboard Dave said...

Wow. How do I apply?

TAMUDAD18 said...

To the $65,000 Anonymous coward, and how do you know what that job entails? Please publish your salary and what you do to earn it so the rest of us can decide if you are worth it or not.

The fact the CEO in Indy and the CEO in Chicago are so closely paid should concern the folks in Chicago. He is FAR from the highest paid CEO in that position.

Tourism is BILLIONS in income to cities and states and funds much of what the citizens enjoy and get to experience. It creates more jobs than most other industries, and I think only automotive industry surpasses it.

Folks, do some research. Get some facts. Don't believe everything said by anybody with a keyboard. Learn how important it is to Indianapolis and the state of Indiana.

Gary R. Welsh said...

There are lots of businesses that are important to Indiana. Tourism is the only one, however, where taxpayers get stuck financing the bulk of the marketing expenses of those who financially benefit from the industry. Why is that? Why is that downtown hotels and restaurants expect taxpayers to carry the freight for their marketing expenses and shoulder 100% of the costs of the convention center to draw people in to fill up their hotels and restaurants? Lilly creates a lot of jobs and brings a lot of money into this city. Are taxpayers paying their marketing expenses? If the downtown hotels think we need high-paid executive at Visit Indy doing that work, then let them fund it themselves. Virtually all of their state and local revenues are being captured by the TIF district and the sports development area by the state and local government and redirected back into the CIB. They aren't paying for any services.

Anonymous said...

when estPhysWhatever the job entails, it's not worth more than $65,000 of taxpayer money, especially when the taxpayer is lucky to make a third of that.

Most Americans are poor. Most Americans work in low-paying jobs and work a lot harder than some crony in an air-conditioned office thinking about about how fresh the scallops will be at lunch.

To make $491,000 on the backs of taxpayers is disgusting and should be criminal. Does that job require sweating, heavy lifting, working with hand or power tools, or working outdoors?

In America, you're lucky to be employed, but to make $491,000, you'd better own your own company. We sure as hell don't want to pay you for that when we can't even find work or live in a decent house.

Anonymous said...

Great comment, Gary.

I get no benefit from Indiana tourism, and I sure don't want to pay for some hotel to get richer.

Anonymous said...

Leonard Hoops became a multi-millionaire after he sued the doctor who delivered his son for medical malpractice out in California.

Anonymous said...

You prick...the kids in a wheelchair with serious issues.