Tag Archives: buffalo casino

Who Do I Think I Am?

31 Jul

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In my post about the Wendt foundation and the need for transparency on the casino lawsuit issue, long time reader and commenter Hank, asked the following question:

Hate to break the bubble, pal–but a private foundation don’t owe you shit. If the courts or the Justice Department wants a look, they have the power of a subpoena. A liberal blogger is neither the former or the latter.

I know who you are, but who the hell do you THINK you are?

Since this is a full service blog and I like to give the people what they want, I’ll tell you who I think I am…

I am a taxpayer and property owner in the State of New York and Erie County.  I work my ass off to put a roof over the heads of my family and I do so under one of the largest personal tax burdens a citizen of this country can endure.  I volunteer my time each year with local organizations in an effort to make this city a better place to live, work, and play.  These organizations conduct their efforts in the face of one of the most unresponsive and intransigent collections of governments in the country.  I spend a sizable chunk of my spare time trying to help new businesses get started in this town and trying to change the general stereotype that Buffalo is a town filled with know-it-all nanny staters, obstructionists, and unionistas who only support progress they personally deem worthy or from which they can derive profit.

I write a blog, co-own a media company, and participate in creating films, documentaries, written content, television programs, and activist events which attempt to mobilize people to work toward common sense solutions to our regional problems.  The first step in that is to provide the information upon which people can base their decisions and choose to act.

So, when an organization decides to use the judiciary to create public policy that affects a region of nearly 1 Million people, forgive me if I have some questions as to how they go about prosecuting that effort with tax exempt funds.

There are rules that govern the use of those funds that are codified in federal and state law.  As a matter of course, the media should invest time in making sure these organizations are following those rules and operating in the open.  If this were a lawsuit brought by an individual or was a case that only affected a small number of people, I would probably have nothing to say.  However, the existence of a casino in Downtown Buffalo represents a $333MM development and would result in construction jobs, casino employment for hundreds if not thousands of locals, and directly benefits the Native American population.

Agreement with the existence of a casino is immaterial.  The bottom line impact of a casino being either a net positive or negative for Buffalo and Western New York is also immaterial.  When a small group of people choose to launch a campaign that is intended to scuttle that development; the motives, funding, and those who ultimately benefit from the effort are a matter of public interest.

This is not a campaign of insinuations trying to prove that Joel Rose is a nefarious enemy of Buffalo.  It is not to demonstrate that the Wendt Foundation is an evil foundation.  It is to demonstrate that as a region, we need to ask questions and demand transparency whenever someone states that they are acting on behalf of, or affecting the region as a whole.  People often tell me that what holds us back as a city and region is our negative attitude, which is patently untrue in this writers opinion.  The problem is that we don’t demand better, that we fail to ask questions as the decisions that determine the course of our collective region are made.  We’re too concerned about propriety and being nice that we don’t ask tough questions.  Whether those questions are asked of local business leaders, politicians, or members of the Old Buffalo power structure.

Asking tough questions and seeking information is what being a citizen is all about.

And that is what I am, a concerned citizen…and a citizen journalist.

WNYM on WBEN with Joel Rose

30 Jul

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This morning, Dr. Kevin Hardwick was hosting the “Tom Bauerle Show” on WBEN 930AM and featured as his in-studio guest, Joel Rose of CACGEC, CAGNY Action, LLC., and CAGNY, Information, LLC.

I called in to ask Joel a few questions about statements he made on the show and in various responses to our questions on the Buffalo Issue Alerts email list, BuffaloPundit’s blog, and in other forums.  I would link to the podcast of this segment, but WBEN still does not save their shows for Internet broadcast and I wasn’t in a place where I could record the call.

For some reason, the public seems to have accepted as fact that the Wendt Foundation was wholly unaware that their sole $120MM investment fund included $4MM of stock in Harrah’s Entertainment Corporation during a three year period.  I made the mistake in my haste by claiming that this investment represented 10% of the foundation’s holding, but, 3% is still a sizable portion of the fund.  For the trustees of the Wendt Foundation to claim that they were unaware, indicates a violation of their fiduciary responsibility to the fund.  The counter to this argument seems to be that Joel and Dr. Hardwick aren’t sure as to where the money in their TIAA-CREF funds are invested.  First of all, you should know where your retirement funds are invested and the comparison is false anyhow.  If your SOLE paid responsibility (at $1384 per hour) is to manage the assets of a charitable foundation, you have a responsibility to know where and how it is invested.

Now, through Joel’s protestations that his organizations are not beholden to me or anyone else, my counter is that if his organizations and those which he is affiliated with wish to take legal action which affects a regional population of nearly 1 Million people, they owe us transparency.  Transparency on the sources of their funding, the manner in which that funding is distributed, and to whom that funding is eventually distributed.

I asked Joel if his organization, which is a not-for-profit domestic corporation registered in New York State, was willing to open its books in regards to the prosecution of this lawsuit.  After all, they are the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.  He declined.  He says that he is unwilling to open up his donors to inspection from the public and not be “grist for the Chris Smith mill”.  If Julius Olmsted the IX of Woodward Avenue gave $50 to the group, you won’t find that on a Form 990.  If Mr. Olmsted were to have given $50,000, that would be on the document.  We would also know if this person had any personal stake in the eventual defeat of a Buffalo casino.

When you are a not-for-profit corporation, you need to disclose your funding streams and your activities via an IRS Form 990.  Would this open up his individual donors to the public microscope?  No, we’re interested in the finances of his organization specific to the lawsuit.

What’s this?  None of his three organizations have filed for tax exempt status in New York State and thus are exempt from filing any reporting documents?   They operate as a program of the Network of Religious Communities in Western New York and due to that organization being faith-based, they are exempt for reporting requirements through the IRS.  While I have been looking into non-profit law to assess how that process should and does work under the proper circumstances, I haven’t reached a conclusion.  However, the people have a right to know how the NRC has managed the funds received from the Wendt Foundation and other donors specific to the prosecution of the lawsuit.

The public has a right to know about the motives, finances, and structure of the organizations that are creating and affecting policy in our region.  Will the NRC and Joel Rose’s three organizations, open their books for the public?

So far, Joel says no.  Perhaps that will change as this process continues apace.