Robin Hood and Air America

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Did Al Franken’s liberal radio network Air America divert city money for the elderly and inner-city children to itself? That’s the question people should be asking this week after the revelation that the New York Department of Investigation is looking into whether hundreds of thousands of dollars were illegally transferred from a Bronx community center to Air America. Only a community paper and a few Internet bloggers seem interested in what could be an egregious case of illegal funneling of tax dollars to a private, partisan organization.

In late June, city officials designated the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club, a nonprofit organization that runs mentoring programs for children and day care for Alzheimer’s patients, a “non-responsible city contractor.” Investigators found “significant inappropriate transactions and falsified documents that were submitted to various City agencies.” The city subsequently suspended the club’s contracts, which run well into the millions.

It turns out, according to sources quoted anonymously by the Bronx News, that the mishandled money went to Air America. One source claims that $480,000 was wrongly transferred. The city investigation is concentrating on Charles Rosen, the club’s president for 15 years, and Evan Cohen, the development director, who is a former chairman of Air America. Mr. Cohen resigned from Air America in May after the network’s leasing plans in Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere fell through.

No one has claimed that Messrs. Cohen or Rosen sought to profit personally from any transfers. The money was said to have been a “loan” from the community center to Air America, which Air America would repay with interest at some point in the future. But why the public till should be tapped to rescue a foundering news outlet was a question no one seemed to consider. Maybe Air America officers thought spending public funds on their network was a truly compelling public interest. It isn’t, of course, and if the allegations are true, they reveal a misuse of tax dollars to support a partisan organization.

Air America’s parent corporation Piquant LLC issued an “explanation” yesterday but did not deny the allegations. It instead tried to pin them on Air America’s previous owners, on whose watch the transfer is said to have occured. That won’t wash.

Most of the mainstream newspapers have ignored this story. We only found out about it through the reporting of Brian Maloney, who pieced a story together on his blog “The Radio Equalizer” which was picked up by syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin. The New York Daily News buried an item at the end of a column of news briefs. There was nothing in the New York Times, which has heaped flattering coverage on the flailing network.

Air America is struggling to find listeners, leaders and reliable funding. But should it take money from children and the ailing elderly? Al Franken and Randi Rhodes, ever the defenders of the “little guy,” should explain this one.

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