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Rutherford Admits Mistakes In Bright Start Promotion

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Dan Rutherford

Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has promised that mistakes made during a promotion for the Bright Start college savings program will not be repeated. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 06/29/11 6:58 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford concedes there were mistakes made in a promotion for the state’s Bright Start college fund program.

Rutherford said he will use the same promotion again — offering to match up to $250 in contributions to a Bright Star fund — but he said Wednesday that he is taking steps to assure that similar problems do not happen again. CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports from the newsroom.

“There were three mistakes made. I’m responsible. And it’s fixed the next time we try to do something like this,” he said.

The first was mailing notification of the promotion to those holding Bright Start accounts too late; his office has received a number of complaints from those who said that by the time the mail notification arrived, the offer had been oversubscribed.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports

Rutherford said no one in his office knew how popular it would prove. The offer was limited to the first 2,500 who sought the match.

The second was the delay by Oppenheimer & Co., the financial services firm that administers the program, in removing the offer from the treasurer’s Web site. Rutherford concedes that it remained in place for more than a day after the money ran out.

The third was the e-mail, sent by a treasurer’s office employee to other employees May 31, explaining the “Save and Match” program and urging them to tell outsiders about it.

Treasurer’s office employees were ineligible to participate and Rutherford said there is no evidence that any employee claimed a match.

Although Rutherford said only three employees forwarded the e-mail, one of the three forwarded it to 25 people. A spokesman for Rutherford conceded that the treasurer’s office had no way to track the forwards from there.

All of the money set aside for the “Save and Match” program was exhausted by June 3, before some people received mail notice.

Rutherford said he stands by the decision to notify account holders by U.S. Mail instead of e-mail because the state does not have reliable e-mail addresses for many Bright Start account holders.

No matter what the intentions of the employee who sent the e-mail, Rutherford said there will be disciplinary action.

“I was not aware of it,” he said of the May 31 e-mail. “It was not appropriate to do and the disciplinary action is being taken care of this week,” he said.

Rutherford did not identify the employee or tell what disciplinary action could be taken. he said he intends to speak with the employee personally but had not done so as of midday Wednesday.

As for the 6,000 to 7,000 individuals who donated expecting a match but who did not get one, Rutherford said he will refund the newly-paid amount, without penalty fee, should anyone want a refund.

The treasurer’s office receives about $500,000 a year from Oppenheimer for use in connection with the Bright Start program. Rutherford said his predecessors have given out the money as scholarships. He said he considers that use “inappropriate,” although he later backpedaled on the use of that word, but said he believes those who already hold Bright Start accounts should be the beneficiaries.

He said it was supposed to be “a feel-good promotion,” but said that has backfired. Nonetheless, he said he remains supportive of the concept and intends to repeat it so long as he is state treasurer.

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