Donors’ group demands AG act to void deal that created MPR’s The Current

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Bolstered by strong words in a June 10 Rice County District Court order, a nonprofit group representing donors to the former WCAL-FM has demanded in a June 12 letter to Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson that she seek the reversal of St. Olaf College’s 2004 sale of the public radio station (now known as The Current) to Minnesota Public Radio.

St. Olaf spokesman Steve Blodgett had no comment on SaveWCAL’s letter, but said the school was satisfied that Judge Gerald J. Wolf left restrictions in place for only two of six categories of contested station funds that the college controls. He said St. Olaf would not appeal the ruling.


In his ruling, Wolf confirmed that WCAL’s sale required judicial approval because of its status as a charitable trust. He faulted St. Olaf for not getting a court’s OK before selling the station, he but saved his harshest criticism for Swanson as well as former Attorney General Mike Hatch — in terms that SaveWCAL attorney Michael McNabb told the Minnesota Independent constituted a “scathing indictment of the attorney general.”


In its letter, SaveWCAL quoted passages from Wolf’s order in which he wrote that he “is absolutely mystified as to why the State Attorney General did not become involved in a sale of trust assets valued at $12 million when it is its statutory obligation to do so. … [MPR’s deed to WCAL assets] is void and subject to cancellation upon application of proper parties.” SaveWCAL then asked the attorney general “to commence a proceeding requesting the Court to declare that the sale of the assets of the charitable trust to Minnesota Public Radio is void.”


The attorney general’s office did not return calls for this story. Deputy Attorney General Ann Biemdick Kinsella, who oversaw the office’s charitable trust responsibilities, is no longer employed there, a staffperson told the Minnesota Independent.


Ben Wogsland, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, told the Pioneer Press the judge was wrong about contributions to WCAL: Donations weren’t put in a separate trust, he said, and in any case moving money from one nonprofit to another doesn’t need the AG’s OK.


Those statements prompted renewed protest from Save WCAL. In a June 15, 2008, letter McNabb reminded Swanson of a June 20, 2007, court filing in which the attorney general’s office repeatedly asserted that donations collected for WCAL do constitute a charitable trust and as such “may not be diverted from the uses and purposes for which the assets have been received and held, or from the uses and purposes expressed on intended by the original donor.”