Grass­roots groups are fac­ing le­gal chal­lenge

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Kait­lyn Kras­selt kkras­selt@hearst­medi­act.com; 203- 842- 2563; @kait­lynkras­selt

In his com­plaint, Ro­mano said In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich was op­er­at­ing as a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee with­out reg­is­ter­ing as one. He claims the group was op­er­at­ing out­side state elec­tion laws par­tic­u­larly when it came to money be­ing spent in the elec­tion, and that it was ac­tively pro­mot­ing the elec­tion of cer­tain can­di­dates and the de­feat of oth­ers.

Groups like In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich and other grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions that have emerged as part of the Trump re­sis­tance could face new hur­dles if the lat­est rul­ing by the State Elec­tions En­force­ment Com­mis­sion be­comes of­fi­cial.

The pre­lim­i­nary rul­ing is not in re­sponse to a com­plaint filed by state Repub­li­can Party chair­man J. R. Ro­mano against In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich in Novem­ber 2017, but it speaks to the same le­gal point, said Josh Fo­ley, staff at­tor­ney and spokesman for the SEEC.

At is­sue is the ques­tion of whether cit­i­zen groups are op­er­at­ing within the bounds of cam­paign fi­nance reg­u­la­tions.

“Ob­vi­ously this isn’t di­rected at us and there are so many groups in the state on the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum that this is de­signed to deal with,” said Joanna Swom­ley, founder of In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich. “But we’re in­ter­ested be­cause it re­lates to the po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity of or­ga­nized groups like ours, and be­cause it touches on an is­sue that we are the sub­ject of in a com­plaint be­fore the SEEC. When it re­lates to what groups such as ours can and can­not do, we’re in­ter­ested.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into that com­plaint and oth­ers is still on­go­ing, but the pa­ram­e­ters out­lined in the new rul­ing could pro­vide a frame­work for the out­come of those in­ves­ti­ga­tions. That’s why the rul­ing — and all it’s nitty- gritty le­gal lan­guage — has caught the at­ten­tion of groups like In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich.

In his com­plaint, Ro­mano said In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich was op­er­at­ing as a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee with­out reg­is­ter­ing as one. He claims the group was op­er­at­ing out­side state elec­tion laws par­tic­u­larly when it came to money be­ing spent in the elec­tion, and that it was ac­tively pro­mot­ing the elec­tion of cer­tain can­di­dates and the de­feat of oth­ers.

“At the end of the day, we still feel very strongly about what hap­pened in Green­wich, that it was not only a vi­o­la­tion of the law, but the spirit of the law and we’ll see where this goes,” Ro­mano said.

In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich, a group that was cre­ated af­ter former Green­wich res­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump was elected pres­i­dent, is­sued a slate of en­dorse­ments in the lo­cal RTM race last year, and from that list, 22 out of 24 peo­ple were elected.

Swom­ley said In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich does not spend money on po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

The new pre­lim­i­nary rul­ing, which out­lines what or­ga­nized groups can and can­not do in terms of po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, is an up­dated re­sponse to the 2010 Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion, which ul­ti­mately de­cided cor­po­ra­tions could be treated as in­di­vid­u­als when it comes to po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions. Cit­i­zens United ren­dered the state’s pre­vi­ous guide­lines for or­ga­nized groups ob­so­lete.

The over­all pur­pose of the new rul­ing is to out­line what or­ga­nized groups like In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich can and can­not do with­out be­ing reg­is­tered as an of­fi­cial po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, which would sub­ject the group to state reg­u­la­tions and re­lated ex­penses, as well as place lim­its on the amount they could spend on po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

The In­di­vis­i­ble move­ment has more than 6,000 chap­ters na­tion­wide. Swom­ley said the group is non- par­ti­san and has en­dorsed peo­ple of all par­ties. She added that In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich en­cour­aged its mem­bers to run for of­fice and that any money it raised went to fund op­er­at­ing ex­penses.

The SEEC rul­ing is now sub­ject to pub­lic com­ment and could be ap­proved later this month. Fo­ley said there is no time­line for a res­o­lu­tion to the com­plaints against In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich.

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Green­wich's Ce­leste Wil­son ( cen­ter), an ad­vo­cate of the anti- Trump group In­di­vis­i­ble Green­wich, protest­ing the new pro­posed Amer­i­can Health Care Act in down­town Green­wich in June.

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