Brent A. Wilkes, the national executive director of the Washington-based League of United Latin American Citizens, or Lulac, rejected any suggestion that he had become Mr. Ackman’s tool — even though his organization accepted a $10,000 contribution early last year, and since then has taken a position at the forefront of the anti-Herbalife campaign.It was my recollection that Wilkes was on the record stating that LULAC had never accepted money from Pershing Square or it's affiliates. Looking through my notes, I could find no such record. The opposite however, is clearly on the record (or on the rag depending on your view of the NY Post).
Michelle Celarier, who has a demonstrably close relationship with Bill Ackman and Pershing Square, published an article at the end of last month about Herbalife's donations to supportive Hispanic groups. In that article she wrote the following:
Wilkes said Herbalife offered his group financial support last summer, days before he was scheduled to meet with Washington regulators. He turned it down, he said.Wilkes was scheduled to meet with Lois Greisman and Jessica Rich (both of the FTC) on Monday July 15th; that's a full five months after LULAC hosted their National Legislative Awards Conference and Gala in February of 2013. And why is the LULAC National Legislative Awards Conference and Gala important? Because that event was sponsored in part by Pershing Square's donation of at least $10,000. As pointed out in the NY Times article, the Gala's sponsorship page clearly indicates LULAC received Pershing Square's donation (or pledge to donate) in February 2013 and the Pershing Square logo was being hosted on LULAC's website in February of 2013 as well (http://lulac.org/images/gala13-pershing.jpg). It's no wonder Brent Wilkes turned down Herbalife's summer donation.
Interestingly, one of the 2009 LULAC National Legislative Awards Conference and Gala honorees was non other than The Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor of Los Angeles and current adviser to Herbalife.In an unrelated article by Bloomberg's Duane Stanford and David McLaughlin, about Herbalife detractors meeting with FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the two quoted Mr. Wilkes as saying:
“I can tell you she is concerned about the stories she hears and I’m sure as the agency looks at all this they’ll take into consideration our testimony.”After today's NY Times article I'd venture Chairwoman Ramirez is "concerned about the stories she hears" alright. Based upon the lack of evidence in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Nevada (not to mention the FTC's own consumer complaints records) it seems like stories, and not facts were the only thing on the menu at LULAC's Pershing-sponsored gala.
Getting back to Celarier's recent article, she closed with:
Ackman’s Pershing Square said it made a $10,000 donation to only one of the 16 dissenting groups , Make the Road New York. The money was used, the hedge fund said, to defray costs of a “victim identification survey.”I added the emphasis there myself. Although there a couple of assumptions one could make with respect to Mr. Wilkes motivations (sincere or purchased), his offer to return the money to Pershing is like your decrepit college buddy offering you a used condom, for your protection of course. No thanks, I'll go bareback.
I'm opposed to LULAC returning the money to Pershing Square. If you're going to get a tramp stamp, don't be surprised when people see it after your beltway khakis get pulled down. Getting bagged should not be cause to run out to your local laser specialist and have them burn away the PSQ emblazoned butterfly/ivy/rose thingy embossed directly over your crack. Giving the money back is not going to erase the past or the poor decisions you made. It's OK to be ashamed of a tattoo, because the tattoo is ultimately the final product of a string of decisions, choices and often relationships leading up to it. Hell I've got a tattoo I shouldn't have gotten, but instead of erasing it, I kept it. I kept it to constantly remind me that being ashamed of your prior mistakes and working to avoid similar mistakes are two entirely different beasts; hiding one's mistakes usually indicates a willingness to continue with the same behavior, but just working harder to avoid getting caught. That is precisely why I think LULAC should keep the money, and instead of buying champagne and petit-fours, they could actually do something useful with it in direct defiance of Pershing's interests, like working to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States.
Getting back to Pershing's own interests, the spawn of Mr. Ackman and the NY Post presents an entirely different choice that is much clearer; by stating that only one of the sixteen dissenting groups received funding from Pershing Square either Ms. Celarier is again mistaken in her reporting or Pershing went on the record knowingly providing false information. Given how faithfully Ms. Celarier has reported on Herbalife, and given Pershing's convenient disregard for accuracy, I have a very hard time believing Ms. Celarier misquoted Pershing Square.
I can only hope that if Bill ends up with a tramp stamp of his own, that it's a prison tat inked on his delicate posterior within the confines of a cell owned by Corrections Corporation of America. Brent Wilkes would do well to study that Pershing Square investment and some of its implications before taking up additional Pershing Square causes.