State treasurer Dan Rutherford must have thought the "Save and Match" program at the state's troubled Bright Start college savings fund would be a publicity coup. Instead, he found himself apologizing Wednesday for the debacle that the program's become.
“There was a mistake, it was in our office — it’s done, and I’m sorry," Rutherford reportedly said at a City Club of Chicago lunch on Wednesday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The bad news for the treasurer first came out earlier this month. "Save and Match" was designed so that if parents contributed $250 to their college savings, Bright Start's administrator Oppenheimer Funds would match their contribution. The offer was to be available for the first 2,500 parents.
But Bright Start forgot to change its website once the 2,500-parent threshold was reached. Thousands more parents contributed, hoping for the match, and were infuriated to learn that they'd been misled.
That was earlier this month. The latest chapter looks even worse for the treasurer, at least as far as perception goes: the Chicago Tribune broke a story on Tuesday that employees of the treasurer's office, their families and friends were notified a few days before parents of the matching program, getting a jump on the limited number of $250 matches.
From the Trib story:
Officials said they did not realize how popular the deal would be and hoped the email would get employees to spread the word about the matches, for which they were not eligible.
"We strongly encourage you to tell your family and friends about the promotion," the email said. But, in doing so, employees gave those people an advantage.
The emails landed in employees' inboxes on May 31, the same day that letters were mailed from New Jersey notifying Illinoisans about the deal. Of course, the letters wouldn't arrive for a couple of days, meaning that the "family and friends" they forwarded the messages along to were able to get the matching contributions while many other parents were shut out.
By the numbers, it's not an enormous scandal: the Trib only found that three employees forwarded the message, and about 25 people received it.
But for a program that was already taking heat, and a Bright Start fund that's been the political albatross for one previous treasurer already, it certainly doesn't look good for the new treasurer.