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Return of Serve

In this post over at BuffaloPundit, Alan Bedenko and Chris Smith suggest that the Wendt Foundation’s trustees, Bruce Jackson, and his family present conflicts of interest that cast doubt on their motives in fighting the Seneca casino in downtown Buffalo.

Fist of all, Alan, thanks for reading and responding.

Rarely do I defend what AV columnists or what they write. I figure we have our own platform and it’s big enough; once we publish, it’s everyone else’s turn. But this time, happily, I have a few facts to add to the mix:

1. Rachel and Michael Jackson have never been paid a cent by the Wendt Foundation for their work on the casino lawsuit;

2. Bruce Jackson applied and got a grant from Wendt on behalf of the Market Arcade for a new digital projector for the cinema, not for himself; the Market Arcade is a public theater owned by the city of Buffalo and run by a volunteer board; the digital projector is used for screenings by a wide variety of Buffalo nonprofit community organizations;

3. AV has never failed to acknowledge Jackson’s former role as vice president of Citizens for a Better Buffalo in his casino articles, either in a tag at the end of the piece or in the body of the article; besides, no one has ever accused an AV writer of being unbiased;

4. Wendt’s trustees don’t track their stock portfolio any more than does the average person with money in a retirement account (quick, without looking—how much of your retirement account is invested in pharmaceuticals? what precisely does the bank where you keep deposits do with your cash?);

5. and even if they had, Wendt divested. Maybe the foundation’s investment manager divested in order to clear a possible forthcoming conflict of interest; maybe he or she sold because it was a good time to sell. I don’t have an answer to that, and neither do Alan and Chris.

What they do have is innuendo. They’ll reply that Jackson’s article traded in innuendo as well—a suggestion that someone, somewhere, whispered this line of attack against the Wendt Foundation, an attack that ignores the motives and the merits of the lawsuit that Wendt Foundation money is supporting and directs attention away from the implications of Judge Skretny’s ruling. Alan is stung by the innuendo that he was party to a conspiracy to discredit the foundation’s motives.

Fair enough. What Bruce asked is (so far) an open-ended question: Where did the line of attack on this institution, which has never before been accused of anything but generosity, originate? Who thought of it? Bruce and I both posed that question to Mike Beebe at the Buffalo News, who responded. Neither of us asked Alan how he’d been inspired to write about it. Maybe we should have, though I don’t think Bruce accused Alan of anything more than having written a post about it. Fact is, we were both more interested in how Beebe came to write his story.

I certainly believe Alan when he says he conspired with no one, that he heard this line of argument on the radio and TV, was interested, and so wrote a post about it. (I also assumed, being a regular reader and a fan, that he would swing back. I looked forward to seeing where his shot would land.)

But you don’t have to be one of the original whisperers of a damaging rumor to be a party to swiftboating; if you’re part of the echo chamber that amplifies and spreads the rumor, then you’re contributing to its apparent legitimacy. In the case of attacks on John Kerry that gave birth to the verb, no one would argue that a thousand bloggers and talk radio hosts met in a hotel room somewhere and devised a strategy. But someone met somewhere to discuss ways to use Kerry’s service record against him, devised a strategy, and unleashed it; and like-minded bloggers and talk radio hosts fell into the roles the plotters hoped they would take. The “objective,” “mainstream” media happily called the action from the press box, turning the blood sport into our national pastime for a good two months. The damage to Kerry’s reputation and campaign was immense.

Bruce believes (as do I) that some party is trying to damage the Wendt Foundation’s reputation in order to scare away the trustees from funding this lawsuit to its conclusion—and, for that matter, from taking stands in the future on potentially controversial issues that the trustees believe affect the welfare of this community. (That is their brief, essentially: to promote the community’s welfare.)

So Alan wrote about an argument that caught his attention; Jackson speculated about the argument’s originators and their motives; Alan and Chris swung back hard because they’re good sportsmen and are versed in the devilish art of opposition research; and I know, by responding, that I am sending a high, weak lob back to them, to do with what they’d like.

Your turn, fellas. While you decide, however, I am once again leaving the court.

  • verbosen

    Pathetic article. all assumptions but few facts. You just assume they don’t track their portfolio? You know what they say about assume. So what do they do for 2 hours per week to get paid 144,000 a year? Maybe its just me , but I would think that the content of a portfolio would be very important to a foundation.

  • WNYMind

    It is very clear that AV has always been on the anti-casino side of this issue. That is fair, since AV is a politically biased paper. It is interesting that AV routinely posts lists of contributors for the Mayor, etc… But, presents no documentation to support its assertions in this editors rebuttal. Where is the documentation to refute the Jackson family connection? According to this logic, Wendt can funnel money to your favorite charity through you, or to your law firm, etc… and you are now unbiased. That is unbelievable and simply rediculous.

    Even more obsurd is that the Wendt trustees don’t track their portfolio. Give me a break, one of the three trustees is a stock broker. A cursory review of their portfolio (a fiscal responsibility of a trustee of any foundation) would reveal that over 2.5% of the portfolio was in a single stock, Harrah’s Casino. That was 56,000 shares and a single investment of $4.5 million at the time of sale. That is something any responsible trustee would flag and be held accountable for. 2.5% of a portfolio in a single stock, a casino stock, that is pure mismanagement in anyone’s book. Very suspicious!!!! So at the very least, your argument suggests that the Wendt trustees are incompetent.

    As far as swiftboating goes, we all remember how the cowardly and dispicable anti-Kerry ads surfaced. They were funded by a private group called swiftboat vets and pows for truth. That’s right, a deep pocket, like the Wendt Foundation used its money in a disinformation campaign to mislead the public about Kerry.

    Now the Wendt Foundation is following in the swiftboat vets for truth’s footsteps and orchestrating their own propaganda campaign. It is amazing. Wendt can bully the public with its millions, and anyone who calls foul is accused of doing what Wendt is doing.

    If questioning Wendt’s tactics is swiftboating, then I am guilty. If raising questions about using money intended for the poor is swiftboating, then I am guilty. But let’s not forget what swiftboating was before the 2004 election. It was a group of heros (like John Kerry) riding a plastic boat into dangerous waters and fighting against injustice. So, I am in good company. Just as John Kerry saved his crew during the war and spoke out against curruption and injustice during after he left the war, I and other who question the Wendt agenda continue his tradition. So, if people are offended when we suggest that Wendt is doing injustice to the poor (the modern day version of burining villages and killing women and children), so be it.

    John Kerry courageously spoke out against the May Lai’s of his time, we speak out against something less costly in innocent human life, but equally costly in the integrety of a community and the scope of opportunities for the poor.

  • Defend your review of the latest Steam Donkeys record like this if you must, but attempting to defend a “news” story based on what the writer says is true is ridiculous.

    “Rachel and Michael Jackson have never been paid a cent by the Wendt Foundation for their work on the casino lawsuit;”

    Who says? And who do they get paid by if it’s true? Does it even really matter so long as it is clear that your writer, and your paper, is taking an anti-casino stand and the writer’s children are making money by putting the anti-casino case forward in court?

    I don’t care one way or the other about casinos. I do have a passing interest in print journalism. The fact that Jackson didn’t disclose this, when there was no other way for the reader to know, is inexcusable.

    “Bruce Jackson applied and got a grant from Wendt on behalf of the Market Arcade…”

    Enough said.

    “Wendt’s trustees don’t track their stock portfolio any more than does the average person with money in a retirement account…”

    I can remember when divestiture in South Africa brought down a regime.

    “Where did the line of attack on this institution, which has never before been accused of anything but generosity, originate? Who thought of it?”

    Wait. So instead of explain what clearly constitutes unethical journalistic behavior, you and Jackson now want to turn the tables and grill the guys who caught you?

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Questions for Joel Rose and Bruce Jackson:

    Why did you choose to organize CACGEC as a program under the Network of Religious Communities rather than any other 501c3 organization? As you certainly are aware, as a faith-based organization, the NRC is not required to file Form 990 with the IRS which opens up several questions as to how your organizational activities are funded.

    What is the current 501c3 status of CACGEC with the Department of State in New York and with the Attorney Generals office? According to NY records ( ) CACGEC is listed as being incorporated September 7, 2006 as a domestic not for profit corporation with no registered agent.

    Did you file the requisite paperwork for your 501c3 status with the NY Attorney General? If so, when? What is the status for that request? Will you disclose what monies have have been received, used, and disbursed through NRC for your purposes at CACGEC? As it currently stands, unless you have a 501c3 exemption, your monies and disbursements are taxable. Using the charities search engine at the NY Attorney General’s Office, neither CBB nor CACGEC is a tax exempt organization. Even though both organizations filed for non-profit status in New York State in 2006.

    I have many more questions about this organization, the Wendt Foundation, CBB, NRC, and the people involved. I am certain that you will be as honest and transparent as necessary to state all facts for the public record. I eagerly await your response.

  • I’ll return serve on a few of these issues as Alan has responded to most of them already.

    4. Wendt’s trustees don’t track their stock portfolio any more than does the average person with money in a retirement account (quick, without looking—how much of your retirement account is invested in pharmaceuticals? what precisely does the bank where you keep deposits do with your cash?)

    If the trustees of the Wendt Foundation who earn ~$144K per year for ~140 hours of work are unaware as to where the assets of the $120MM foundation are invested, they have patently vacated their fiduciary responsibilities to the trust and should step down.

    As to your query about my investment portfolio, I have no investments in pharmaceutical interests as I advised my financial planner to focus my money on defense and telecom stock while dabbling in foreign currencies, muni bonds, and commodities. I am active in the maintenance of my portfolio as anyone with an ounce of financial expertise should be.

    What Bruce asked is (so far) an open-ended question: Where did the line of attack on this institution, which has never before been accused of anything but generosity, originate? Who thought of it?

    I know how it originated with me and it had nothing to do with watching a TV report or reading a story. As a journalism student, I was always advised to follow the money in any issue of public interest and that’s what I did. I know where the Seneca money comes from and what their interests are. On the other hand, I know nothing about the money sources for the opposition, the reason for their interest, who was funding, who was receiving money for legal work, and who benefited from $2MM in legal fees.

    Any journalist should have asked the very same questions that I asked.

    You say it’s innuendo, I say it’s investigation, common sense journalism, and following the money. I don’t buy for a second that the opposition to this casino is based on some “aw shucks” morality of two guys in suspenders and beards. I think there is more to it and I’ll look to see if I’m right. Along the way, we’ll be mocked, ridiculed, and attacked for questioning the motives of an organization that has “never before been accused of anything but generosity”. So what if they haven’t? Does this somehow exempt them from questions? What is the interest in protecting the old money of Buffalo?

    Finally, to wrap us into the litany of right wing bloggers who bought into the swiftboat attacks is just as baseless and undignified as Bruce’s original article. It informs the readers here that I am somehow too dumb to see I am being led down the path of ignorance by forces greater than myself. Please. We’re asking questions and investigating something I find to be of interest to the public. Even if it questions something as sacrosanct as the Wendt Foundation and the old power structure of Buffalo.

  • Pomeroy

    Alan Bedenko stated that he is opposed to the idea of a sovereign enclave being carved out of Buffalo’s cobblestone district, and he should be (Go Alan)! New York State can’t give part of the City of Buffalo to a Sovereign Entity without the consent of two/thirds of the United States Senate.

    The United States Senate can not delegate that authority to the U. S. Secretary of the Interior or the National Indian Gaming Commission.

    If New York State had any smarts; it would drop the phoniness of Seneca Casinos and learn from our Canadien neighbors. Ontario takes in all the money from their gambling operations, rather than settling for 1 ½ % (one and one half percent).

    And just for the sake of argument; New York State can not give part of the City of Buffalo to the Canadiens, or to the British or to the French for that matter.

  • WNYMind

    The Seneca’s right to purchase land and reincorporate it into the Buffalo Creek reservation land was approved by the US Congress in the 1990 settlement which is based in the Treaty of 1842. Look it up, it is all legal and part of a resolution to a century old dispute between the Seneca and the US Government.

    Of course, there is nothing blocking New York from legalizing gambling. But, that is a separate issue. If you are interested in pursuing the legalization of gambling in NY, contact the Wendt Foundation. They are supportive of gambling as long as it is not in the City of Buffalo. So, the Wendt Foundation would probably back your efforts to legalize gambling everywhere in New York but Buffalo. You should apply for a grant with the Wendt Foundation. They have millions to throw behind lobbying efforts.

  • Mr. Bumble

    Slow down everybody!
    First of all it’s Gaming not Gambling; doesn’t anyone watch Channeled No. 2 anymore?
    Secondly, the City can easily afford to have $150 million removed from it’s economy each year, we have $76 million from overtaxation in reserve.
    Thirdly, so what if we lose 2300 jobs to gain 1000, at least Byron Brown can appoint 500 politicos from Grass-Roots to those positions; it’ll make the petitioning process much easier.
    And Forthly; as an extra bonus it will create a much larger population for the Wendt Foundation and the City Mission to assist.

    A casino in downtown Buffalo is absolutely brilliant!

  • WNYMind

    A few corrections Mr. Bumble:

    First, it’s gambling, let’s acknowledge it is what it is. Let’s also acknowledge that gambling has been in WNY for decades and we never heard a peep out of the Wendt trustees until the Seneca wanted to buy into the game.

    Second, it has never been established that the city has much of an economy, nor that $150 million will come out of it. There is no empirical study of Buffalo and gambling out there. So, drop the scare tactics and boogieman casino talk. Just for the record, there is no boogieman.

    Third, Grass-Roots? What? Where did that come from? This type of race bating is why I am coming to the conclusion that PART of the anti-casino lobby is a knee jerk reaction to minority run casinos. Remember, I just say it is PART (and probably a small, subconscious part) of the motivation, but this is a legitimate issue to explore further.

    Finally, I’d like to see the Wendt Foundation give as much to the city mission as it did to the Frank Lloyd Right House. Imagine helping homeless people instead of helping an empty house. But, don’t count on the mission being any more crowded than it already is. I believe they run at capacity. Even with a steadily declining city population and no job growth. More to the point, don’t count on the Wendt Foundation to start caring about the poor. That concern ends after the Wendt trustees step over the poor and get into their limos.

  • Mr. Bumble

    Another excellent post WNYMind, however it wasn’t a knee jerk reaction.
    The Seneca’s are about to argue that they should be able to operate a casino in downtown Buffalo;
    because they are Seneca’s.
    The courts would not consider if you or I could do the same.
    The court decided that we could all buy land and operate other businesses.
    The bigger question here is; are some people “more equal” than others?

    Wouldn’t it be great if Buffalo could open a casino in downtown Toronto?
    Just think of the money we could take out of there!
    (There is no empirical study of that either).
    Does anyone think the People of Toronto would “just let that happen”?

  • WNYMind

    Bumble, you know good and well the Seneca have a right to operate a casino on their land in Buffalo based on several treaties and settlements with the U.S. government going back over 150 years. You might resent the Seneca, but even with a casino they come up short in that deal.

    In the early 1800’s the entire area known as Buffalo was called the Buffalo Creek Reservation. It was sold out from under the Seneca in an illegal land scam approved by the U.S. government. So, the Seneca have has a legal claim to all the land in Buffalo for over a century. The U.S. government recognizes that claim, but requires the Seneca to buy the land back. It is a huge mess, and the 1990 Settlement with the Seneca was enter into by both parties to resolve it.

    The Seneca originally tried to buy land in Cheektowaga to build their casino on. But civic leaders in Buffalo sued them, because they wanted to force the Seneca to build the Casino in the City of Buffalo, and only in Buffalo.

    How much are you willing to jack the Seneca around? How far do you want to go to interfere with treaties between the Seneca and the federal government? Are you proposing that the State of New York secede from the Union?

    I think you are just hung up on the fact that the Seneca have patiently worked to get their land back and use it under the legal framwork negotiated for with the government. You really don’t care about gambling, or you would be protesting the lottery outlets in Buffalo. You are a fraud and angry at the Seneca.

    I should also remind you that the Seneca are US Citizens. Many of them (in the past and today) fight in the armed forces to keep this country free. They vote, pay taxes, send their kids to public schools, drive on the right side of the road, eat hot dogs on the forth of July, and watch the Superbowl. So why do you hate your own people? Why do you want to treat your own people like they are not Americans? You must be mistaking Buffalo for Germany in the 1930s? You have decided to scapegoat the Seneca for all the ills of society.

    Seek counceling Bumble. Get rid of all that hate.

  • Is there such a thing as wifi jammers?