Last week, the USA TODAY reported on the financial questions surrounding Mike Ditka's charity fundraising.
Twice this year, pro football legend Mike Ditka has blasted the National Football League and its players union, telling Congress that both groups are "delaying or denying" requests by needy retired players for help.The net looks low because the charity spent $715,000, the bulk of the money it raised, to put on three annual golf tournaments. That figure includes payments of about $280,000 to a Chicago firm that organized the tournaments and at least $65,000 in honoraria to ex-stars.
Ditka formed a charity in 2004 to aid those players. The Mike Ditka Hall of Fame Assistance Trust Fund has collected $1.3 million and netted about $315,000 after expenses. But it has given only $57,000 to former players in need, according to federal and Illinois tax records.
The trust paid more in fees to induce former stars to appear at a 2005 fundraiser than it gave needy ex-players in its first 3 years.
Ditka is the outspoken former Hall of Fame player and coach for the Chicago Bears. In June, he told a House panel that injured and needy ex-players are "treated like dogs" while the union "does nothing material to help these guys." His charity, he said then, was created to redress "this grave injustice."Carl Francis, a spokesman for the players union, that Ditka frequently targeted, used the story to point out the potential hypocrisy in Ditka's criticisms.
The charity, recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt organization, gave nothing to players during its first two years. It aided 10 ex-players in 2006.
"At some point it's got to be about more than holding yet another press conference and blasting people," Francis said. "You ought to be announcing 'We just gave away a half a million.' Unless, of course, you didn't."
Now, the former NFL legend is paying more attention.
Ditka said he had paid little attention to his charity's numbers until this year. He has begun cutting fundraising costs and will insist that half of the annual tournament's proceeds be paid out, he said, adding that the trustees have been told to pay needy players first before requiring them to fill out forms.This isn't the first time celebrities seemed surprised to hear that lending their name to charity fund can go badly unless you pay attention to the important things - like money.
Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog, said the Ditka trust may have underestimated the charity's workload by naming only two volunteer trustees — three fewer than the minimum the institute recommends.
The group, he said, appears to have underestimated the cost of putting on golf tournaments, which are typically among the most expensive types of fundraiser.
Now the Chicago Sun Times and others are starting to ask hard questions.