State May Be Cutting Programs, But Not Promotions

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cheap trinkets are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the work of state agencies, while programs to help the needy are being cut.

As CBS 2’s Pam Zekman investigates, taxpayers are the ones who foot the bill.

The trinkets can be found everywhere.

At the Auto Show, we picked up a fake Secretary of State police badge.

At an event Illinois Department of Human Services, lipstick holders and coin cases with hotline numbers for victims of human trafficking were freebies grabbed up by two ladies.

We obtained state records that documented the purchase of thousands promotional items purchased in fiscal 2010 by state agencies, handouts that added up to more than $900,000.

We showed our findings to Jim Tobin the head of Taxpayers United of America, a taxpayer’s watchdog group.

“This sort of thing is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Tobin said. “It really is.”

The Department of Natural Resources spent more than $75,000. Fishing reels, pocket knives, and knife sharpeners were on their list. And 230,000 deer pins that cost $17,000. The pins are a favorite of hunters.

“If they want those pins so bad they should pay for them themselves,” Tobin said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health spent more than $146,745 for “stress ball relievers” and “cell phone condom holders” to promote safe sex.

“They’re really screwing the taxpayers by doing this sort of thing,” Tobin said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation was the biggest spender at more than $188,000.

But it’s safe driving message gets lost on some items—like a large plastic clip to hold papers. You can barely read it.

And on a key chain with large plastic lips, it says “Kiss it Goodbye,” with this in the fine print underneath, “Zero tolerance is the law in Illinois.”

Tobin pondered the meaning of the message. “That must be it. Zero tolerance for kissing. Brilliant!”

A law passed last August prohibits using general revenue funds to buy promotional items for two years. State officials say for now federal funds, licensing and permit fees pay for them.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s coming from federal, state or local,” Tobin said. “Its a waste.”

It’s money that could be used to help agencies that are now threatened with huge budget cuts by the state.

John Voit estimates that Seguin Services, a not-for-profit agency he runs to help people with disabilities, may lose “anywhere from $600,000 to one million dollars,” from the proposed budget cuts.

“What that means is we have to cut services and we have to cut costs,” Voit said.

Seguin provides housing in community based homes and job training for participants like Olga Bach. Bach has cerebral palsy and says the working in Seguin’s nursey is both therapeutic and fulfilling.

“I love this program,” Bach said, and she wants it to continue.

A law passed last August prohibits using general revenue funds to buy promotional items for two years. State officials say for now federal funds, licensing and permit fees pay for them.

None of agencies would show us all of the promotional items they have purchased. And their spokespersons declined our requests for on camera interviews. But in written statements they defended the expenditures saying they help promote Illinois’ businesses, tourism and needed outreach programs.

More from 2 Investigators
  • Rich

    And where were these trinkets made China?

  • bill

    Seguin Services helps so many families. Funds need to be released to allow the very capable staff to teach the participants. Everyone should take the time to visit Seguin Services.
    Visit the Car Wash or Green House and just see what these folks can do.

    My experience after every visit has been very positive, and a great reminder that people basically are good.

    Seguin is worth a visit.

    • Marlin Jones

      Seguin is a remarkable and wonderful place.

  • Don Moss

    Thank you, Pam Zekman, for your excellent expose of how the state wastes money while thousands of children and adults with disabilities are being cut from services or having their programs deteriorate from funding reductions. For instance, $200 million a year is being wasted on outmoded state institutions for persons with developmental disabilities who could be better served in small integrated community settings such as those provided by Seguin Services. Keep after them, Pam!

  • jenny

    Pam, Why not continue to look at who owns the comapny that the state buys all these “Promotional” items from. I am guessing whoever owns this company is related to the decision maker who signs off on the purchasing order.

    Springfield… Wake Up!!!

  • Cathy

    Pam: I certainly hope you will do a follow up on this. Our loved ones belong in the community. Illinois is throwing dollars at the State Institutions and giving a 8.25% raise to employees yet cutting the pay of workers in the community by 6%. Community services are going have to sustain a 76.3 million dollar cut and the Institutions are going to get a 30 million dollar increase. Something is terribly wrong! The numbers don’t make any sense. Living and working in the community saves the taxpayers thousands of dollars and its so much healthier and safer for our loved ones who have disabilities. I want my children living close to me and enjoying life.

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  • George Balsamo

    Dear Pam: A well-done story as usual.
    Please allow me to share with you another questionable promotional expense. You and your colleagues may recall the news conference on 10/26/2010 that introduced the Blackhawks license plate. I am a license plate collector and historian. As I took my wife downtown for a job interview that day, I was able to come to the conference.
    I am a member of ALPCA (; it publishes a bi-monthly magazine for its members. It has a column where the latest developments in plates are featured. I came to report on the Blackhawks plate launch for the magazine.
    Hawks dignitaries, ILSOS officials, and members of the media were offered eamples of the plate. Of all the persons who came there, I was the only one who was not offered a plate. I realize that my appearance was not anticipated. I told several persons that I would be most grateful if I could have one of the plates. ILSOS spokesman David Druker told me they were spoken for; I gave hime my name and address. However, a great many of the plates went unclaimed by the time the conference wrapped up. As of this writing, I have not received one. Because I came to report on the launch, I was no less entittled to receive a plate than anyone else. That I was an unpaid stringer for a magazine with a circulation of 3000 did not make my presence any less legitimate. These plates cost about $ 3.00 to manufacure – did any of the recipients pay for them? My guess is no.
    Another thing that ILSOS needs to understand is that when a citizen offers to assist you at his own expense, maybe it should at least let him know whther or not his help is wanted. But that’s another story.
    I hope you will get back to me on this.
    P.S. It’s great to see Bill and Walter are back!

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