NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. —
On June 27, the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club received a $5,000 donation from Charter Communications. The intention of the donation was to aid the organization with its summer camp program.
The Boys & Girls Club in Niagara Falls assists approximately 1,400 kids per year in a variety of ways.
Normally that's the end of the story. A corporation gives a nice donation to a non-profit in a time of need, everyone gets their news hit and away we go.
Had it not been for a letter submitted to the Federal Communications Commission on July 21, this story could have followed that same pattern.
On July 21, a letter was published to the FCC comments section on the federal regulator's website. Anyone can publish a comment on a variety of issues that are under consideration at the FCC.
This is a letter from the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club to the FCC, expressing their support for a petition that would allow Charter Communications to change the terms of a merger agreement in the Rochester market.
The broader story about this issue is well documented online and in the Rochester news market. The TL;DR version is that Charter Communications has petitioned the FCC to sunset, industry-speak for ending, the merger conditions when Charter merged with Bright House several years ago. That merger required the newly formed Charter to meet certain conditions for regulators to approve it.
This letter was curious to 2 On Your Side because it’s such a specific topic that really doesn’t impact the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club. In fact, it's not even the same market. A tip on social media brought this to our attention.
The discovery of this comment on the FCC website prompted 2 On Your Side to reach out to Charter Communications, who said they were anticipating our inquiry after seeing social media interactions.
On July 22, a Charter Communications spokesperson sent us the following after we asked for more details about their philanthropic giving:
"As an inherently local business with more than 10,000 employees in the state, we strengthen the communities we serve through philanthropic giving, technology, in-kind support and employee volunteerism, working in partnership with hundreds of organizations and local leaders."
Thursday 2 On Your Side reached out to the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club to set up a time we could ask about the letter they submitted to the FCC.
Without even asking a specific question regarding the details of this situation the club sent us this statement:
“The Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club received a request and prepared letter from Charter Communications affirming their charitable gift of $5,000 to support our summer programming. After quick review of the letter we submitted it. Unfortunately, upon closer review we see that the last paragraph of the letter states that we support 'Charter’s petition to sunset merger conditions.' It was never our intention to officially support anything. The Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club does not take a stance either way. We thank Charter Communications for their support of the youth development services we provide to Niagara Falls children.”
After a quick whirlwind of events, the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls club went from supporting a measure after receiving a donation from Charter to then distancing themselves entirely.
But if this wasn't enough of a Nancy Drew novel for you, we have this update:
Charter is apologizing to the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club.
In a response sent to 2 On Your Side Friday afternoon, the company says:
"Charter has supported the life-changing work of the Boys & Girls Clubs across the state for many years and we regret this misunderstanding. As an inherently local business with more than 10,000 employees in the state, we strengthen the communities we serve through employee volunteerism, in-kind support and technology, and philanthropic giving. We work in partnership with hundreds of local leaders and organizations, such as the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club and the 1,400 young people whose lives they enhance each year, and will continue to do so."
The reality of the situation is there's nothing illegal here. What stands out is that the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club has only submitted one FCC comment, as far as WGRZ can determine. The comment came after they received a donation from Charter Communications, and the letter was in support of an initiative that Charter Communications wants regulators to approve.
This situation, and others that WGRZ has also discovered, raises serious questions about the position non-profits are put in after they receive a donation from a large company.