Two DuPage Township trustees called out one of their colleagues at a meeting Tuesday night for allegedly using kids from a nonprofit organization to walk with her political campaign in a parade.
Trustee Ken Burgess read aloud a letter he wrote to the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office. He explained that he was at the Founders Day Parade in Romeoville on Sept. 16 when he saw a young person walking with Republican County Clerk candidate Laurie McPhillips’ campaign. Burgess said the young person was not politically involved as far as he was aware and had no connection to McPhillips or the Republican Party.
“I sent a text message to the young person’s mother to ask if she was aware that her child was walking for a candidate,” Burgess wrote. “The mother responded in the negative. The mother then informed me that the child was walking in the parade because the HEART Organization offered the children in their program a day off class in exchange for a Sunday of ‘community service.’ ”
The HEART Organization gives teenagers in legal trouble to volunteer opportunities in order to get their records expunged. The organization’s executive director, Leonard Ingram, said their kids have a long history of volunteering at community events, but, he emphasized, never for political purposes.
As part of a nonprofit organization, they cannot participate in political activity. Leonard said he was aware Alyssia Benford, a Dupage Township trustee and Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives, requested some volunteers for the parade but he was under the impression they would be doing more general work like passing out water.
“We try to stay out of politics, but we do want to be of some service in the community,” Ingram said. “Our focus is our children having their cases dismissed.”
McPhillips said she asked Benford at the parade if she had a few spare volunteers and ended up with three for her campaign, but she added she did not know the kids were there specifically because they were from the HEART Organization.
“I don’t know how they got recruited,” McPhillips said.
In a statement, Benford said her campaign “has not asked any organization to violate their 501(c)(3) status by actively participating in any capacity for my campaign, and no organization has done so.”
Benford went on to say that those who walked with her campaign did so “of their own free accord.”
“It is reprehensible to me that others would want to use political stunts for their own personal benefit and in the process spread detrimental falsehoods not just about me but any organization they are alleging made serious IRS status violations,” Benford said.