Robert Odawi Porter, the current Seneca Nation president, says he’s heard rumors of political donations, legal fees and other questionable spending.
Barry Snyder Sr., the former Seneca president running for a new term as the nation’s leader, says the allegations are rooted in nothing more than politics.
Porter and Snyder squared off in a debate – they held dueling news conferences Thursday – over the Seneca Diabetes Foundation, a seven-year old charity formed to address the alarming rate of diabetes among Native Americans.
“Where’s the money?" Porter asked of the charity. “Who’s money is it? And why can’t we get any benefit from it?”
In raising questions about the Foundation, Porter is pointing a finger at Snyder in what is becoming an increasingly negative campaign for Seneca Nation president.
“It’s amazing what elections bring out in people,” Snyder, a candidate for president, told reporters. “The president of the Seneca Nation should be above that.”
Porter, who can not run for re-election, stopped short of accusing Snyder and the Foundation of wrongdoing, but he did call for a full accounting of the group’s activities within seven days.
When asked why, Porter referred to “rumors" of inappropriate spending, as well as documents indicating the Nation is receiving little for its support of the diabetes organization.
He claims the Foundation raised $2.6 million since it was formed in 2005 and has spent only 11 percent of that on services to the Nation,
“These issues go well beyond politics," said Richard E. Nephew, Snyder’s opponent in the race for president. “We’ve asked on many occasions for an accounting and have not received the answers we’ve wanted.”
Snyder said the Foundation has raised about $5.5 million, double what Porter estimated, and has spent about half of that on a wide range of health care and education services. The balance remains in the bank.
Chief among the group’s expenses is a $1.5 million endowment with Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. Snyder said the endowment funds a full-time doctor, an endochronologist, and full-time nurse practitioner who visit with diabetes patients on the reservations.
Foundation officials claim the program has helped 400 families.
“We wanted to set up something that would be permanent," Snyder said of the endowment and the services it funds.
Formed seven years ago, the foundation is one of Snyder’s pet projects and has been at the center of controversy before.
In 2009, Snyder reportedly led a campaign to oust the then chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp, after the corporation redirected its $150,000-a-year contribution to the Foundation.
Snyder attributed the change in casino leadership to hard economic times and the ever-changing gambling industry.
The foundation became news again in February when State Sen. Mark Grisanti tussled with two Seneca businessmen, Eric white and Seth Snyder, after a black tie gala for the Foundation at the Seneca Niagara Casino.
The charity was created in part as a response to what Snyder and others at the time called ‘the single greatest health problem among Seneca Indians.”