Reports

Report | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Big Banks Bigger Fees 2012

Over the last dozen years or more, bank efforts to raise fee income have been bolstered by pliant regulators, who looked the other way while banks piled new fees onto deposit accounts and engaged in deceptive practices to earn more in fees. Regulators encouraged tens of billions of dollars in overdraft fee income by classifying “overdraft protection” products as “account features,” not loans.

Avoiding higher bank fees by shopping for a bank account is not easy. The lack of enforcement has even extended to the laws requiring simple disclosures, so consumers cannot shop around. This is not a new problem. In response to growing complaints about deceptive advertising following the 1980s deregulation, Congress had enacted the 1991 Truth in Savings Act.3 That law was intended to make it easier to shop around; by requiring banks to publish all deposit account-related fees in a schedule and making that schedule available to prospective customers.

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Million Dollar Megaphones

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by U.S. PIRG and Demos shows how big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in 2012: just 61 large donors to Super PACs giving on average $4.7 million each matched the $285.1 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500 small donors to the major party presidential candidates.

Report | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Total Food Recall

Over the past few years, Americans have grown accustomed to seeing headlines about tainted food being recalled and pulled off of store shelves.  These high-profile recalls leave many Americans wondering whether enough is being done to reduce the risk of contaminated food and foodborne illness.  And they are right to do so – 48 million people get sick from eating tainted food each year, and despite significant costs to our economy and Americans’ public health, the number of such illnesses, particularly from Salmonella, has remained stagnant over at least the past 5 years?.

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Testing for Toxics

In an effort to better understand the prevalence of toxic chemicals that pose a risk to children’s health, Illinois PIRG Education Fund purchased ten common baby products and tested these products for chlorinated Tris, or TDCPP, a chemical that has been linked to cancer, mutagenicity, hormone disruption, neurological damage, and infertility. We also checked to see which of the products that were found to contain chlorinated Tris had a consumer label indicating the presence of toxic flame retardant chemicals to at least give consumers notice that some form of flame retardant is in the product. We found chlorinated Tris in a majority of the children’s products tested (7 of 10). Of the products found to contain chlorinated Tris, only 5 had labels indicating its presence. 

Report | Illinois PIRG | Tax

Jobs and TIF

Illinois PIRG’s report “Jobs and TIF: An Analysis of Job Creation and Tax Increment Financing” analyzes the records of 21 TIF-funded projects from the last decade with the biggest number of promised jobs – each project examined was required to create at least 200 jobs. The report checked to see whether the city is making sure developers are living up to their promises. 

Since TIF projects are typically justified byusing their purported job-creation benefits, and because the number of jobs created is relatively easy for the city to track, we obtained and examined records on projects with job-creations requirements above 200 from in the years 2000 through 2010. These projects should ought to be the most scrutinized TIF projects in the city. The results suggest, however, that Chicago’s TIF programs remain largely impervious to scrutiny and unaccountable to the public.  The findings show that among projects that promised to create the most jobs, there are unacceptably low levels of tracking and enforcement:

• The city could demonstrate consistent tracking of job-creation for only three (14 percent%) of these major TIF projects

• Out of 21 projects with some kind of jobs goal, 15 (71 percent%) did not provide annual evidence that the jobs goals were being met, but the city only asked only two2 of the projects to give money back.

• Not a single project complies with existing the 2009 “Sunshine Ordinance” that requires posting of five5 major documents online; most projects provide less than half.

• A significant number of projects (19 percent%) did not even have specific job-creation goals in their official agreements with the city.

To show the relative degree of overall transparency and accountability for each project, we created a scorecard to assign each a letter grade from “A” to “F” based on four criteria: whether enforceable standards were created, whether the developers hit their jobs goals and reported it to the city, whether the city reclaimed the TIF funds in instances where developers failed to hit their jobs goals, and whether all the information required to be available to the public is accessible.        

 

 

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