The State of the City
by Buck Quigley - posted 6:31 pm, January 23, 2009
As reported in the Buffalo News, the Mayor is selling tickets to his State of the City Address scheduled for Thursday, January 29 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. The $35 charge gets you a chicken lunch, and the proceeds go to Mayor Brown’s Fund to Advance Buffalo.
In the News article, Attorney Peter A. Reese points out that both the official seal of the City of Buffalo and the CitiStat logo sit right at the top of the invitation, creating the impression that the event is a public function. But by all indications, it’s in fact intended to be a private function to raise money for Mayor Brown’s Fund to Advance Buffalo, a 501c3 organization created in 2006 “to raise funds and distribute such funds to charitable organizations operating in the City of Buffalo and in Support of Community Activities for the Betterment of the Residents of the City of Buffalo.”
According to the organization’s 2006 990 tax return (available by clicking here), as well as their 2007 990 tax return (available by clicking here), there are four officers. First Deputy Mayor Steve Casey is President, Corporation Counsel Alisa Lukasiewicz is Treasurer, Hodgson Russ Attorney and NFTA Board member Adam Perry is Vice President, and Dana Bobinchek is Secretary. In 2006, they raised $113,393 and listed $65,748 in “direct expenses other than fundraising expenses,” listing a net income of $47,759 including $114 in interest. That year, $4,048 was spent on legal fees and $48 went to bank fees, while only $6,500 went out as program service (unspecified, but hopefully noble)—adding up to $10,596 in total functional expenses. This left the charity with $37, 163 at the end of the first year.
According to the organization’s 2007 tax return, which was filed only two months ago on November 12, 2008 and also lists the same officers, they brought in $29,649, minus $645 in legal fees, $2,857 in postage and shipping, $1,812 in printing and publications, $1,915 on “other” expenses, $70 on dues (whatever that means). That adds up to $7,299 in total expenses, leaving the 501c3 with $22,350. Add the $37,163 left over from the year before and you arrive at $59,513 in assets at the end of 2007. It is interesting and bewildering to note that on schedule B of the 2007 form, only one contributor is listed: Erie County Medical Center to the tune of $10,000.
Information for 2008 is unavailable, and probably won’t be until they file their 2008 990 form—probably in November of 2009 if their past practices are any indication.
Looking at those first two years, we can guess that maybe close to $8,500 went to anything that might be considered “support of community activities for the betterment of the residents of the City of Buffalo”—and that’s a charitable reading of these public documents.
As for the upcoming State of the City Address, the organization is not being charged for rental of the big exhibit floor in the convention center. That part’s free, according to Paul Murphy at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Management Corp., the county-funded agency that runs the place. He says it’s typical for a big event like this one—over a thousand people are expected—as long as they’re ordering food. And according to Ryan Cote, who booked the event at the convention center, everyone who buys the $35 ticket will be treated to a chicken lunch that runs $16-$17 according to the BNCC menu (available by clicking here).
So, the mayor’s charity will be up around $20,000 by that afternoon, minus the cost of printing and mailing out all the invites (available by clicking here), and miscellaneous production expenses like renting a teleprompter and paying someone to run it.
I was told by secretary Bobinchek that only Peter Cutler can answer questions about the event, and about Mayor Brown’s Fund to Advance Buffalo. Cutler stopped talking to me after telling me yesterday that he knew where our conversation was headed. Surprised, I asked him where it was headed, and he quickly told me he didn’t know where it was headed. Some spokesman. And why is he the spokesman for the mayor in his elected capacity as well as the official spokesman for the mayor’s charity? Where do Cutler’s responsibilities end?
After placing several calls to Peter Cutler, Dana Bobinchek, Susan Gonzalez (who is an events coordinator at city hall and is involved with the Police Athletic League), Steve Casey, and various personalities at the County Executive’s office and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, I received a call out of the blue from Adam Perry—who is listed as Vice President of the mayor’s 501c3.
Perry told me that he was in fact the President of the organization, that Casey was Vice President, Aaron Siegel (Franklin Credit Solutions) was Treasurer, Bobinchek (city of Buffalo) was still Secretary, and Gonzalez, Sterling Kozlowski (Key Bank), Lukasiewicz, Tanya Perrin-Johnson (city of Buffalo), and Michael Seaman (city of Buffalo) are listed as members. He sent me a document stating this lineup was correct as of July 26, 2007, and you can see it by clicking here. Still, that contradicts what was filed on the 2006 and 2007 990s.
Short of having a list of good works that were done by Mayor Byron Brown’s Fund to Advance Buffalo in 2008, attendees at the 2009 State of the City Address don’t have much to feel warm and fuzzy about for their $35 donation. Cutler did tell me that I was welcome to attend for free as a member of the press, but I shouldn’t expect a meal. As for the rest of the citizens of Buffalo, there may still be hope that they will be granted admission to what should clearly be a civic function without donating to the mayor’s fund, but nothing’s official yet.