CHICAGO - A national support group for military families is trying to force Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn to change an identically named state organization he oversees, saying confused military families are contacting the wrong group for help.
Operation Homefront, the national organization with the Web address www.operationhomefront.net, said Illinois' Operation Home Front, with a Web site of www.operationhomefront.org, is violating federal trademark laws.
"We have letters from people outside the state of Illinois who are confusing the two organizations calling us screaming, freaking out,'' Meredith Leyva, founder of Operation Homefront, said Thursday.
She said veterans in Illinois, where her group operates, also are confused and claimed the state organization does not return calls to tell them they've reached the wrong group, prolonging the time they wait for assistance.
But Quinn's office dismisses the contention that military families are confused when they reach the state Web site, saying that a headline near the top of the site reads: "Helping our Military Families in Illinois.''
"It's very clear looking at our Web site that it is set up to serve military people in Illinois,'' said Quinn spokeswoman Elizabeth Austin.
Further, she said that when military families from outside the state do contact the organization, it either tries to help them or refers them to other groups for help.
Leyva said the Illinois organization has no right to the name because her Santa Ana, Calif.-based group, launched shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was awarded the trademark for the name last year by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
She also said the demand for the name change and threat of a lawsuit is being made only after Quinn refused a request that the site clearly tell visitors about Leyva's group.
Leyva also wondered whether the Illinois organization is a political group, saying Quinn set it up as an individual and not lieutenant governor and that the e-mail address he gave was votequinn.org, his political campaign.
Austin explained that when Quinn created the domain name operationhomefront.org in 2001 in support of his organization called the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund he had not yet been elected lieutenant governor.
He was elected the next year and at that point, she said, Operation Home Front became what she calls a state outreach program.
"Our office has used (the name Operation Home Front) to promote programs that benefit veterans and their families and also a way for families to contact our office to ask for help,'' she said.
She also said her office has no intention of changing the group's name. Dan Persky, counsel for the lieutenant governor, said he believes trademark law does not require such a name change because it is obvious these are two distinct organizations.
"There is not mass confusion and the primary factor in trademark rights is whether it will cause confusion,'' he said.