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Darien Republican Club discusses PAC violation

Published 8:37 pm, Thursday, March 22, 2012
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The Republican Club of Darien was found in violation of campaign financing laws after a complaint was filed against the former club president for not filing paperwork to become a political action committee.

The complaint, filed by Bryan Stephens in 2009, cited a number of violations on the part of the club, but the State Elections Enforcement Commission found the former president, Gwynne Grimes, to have violated state statutes "because DRC solicited membership fees, charged `entry fees' to its `forums and programs,' and had annually spent a `significant portion' of its funds on `in-kind' contributions for the election of Republicans to municipal and state offices, it was required as a `group of two or more individuals organized on an ongoing basis' to register as a political committee," the complaint stated.

However, acting president Joi Gallo disputes the merits of the complaint and said she didn't believe the club was required to file paperwork to become a PAC.

"The club has looked at the requirements to file as a PAC and it's something we address on a regular basis," she said. "We can always voluntarily subject ourselves to filing and that's a conversation we continue to have."

Grimes confirmed the complaint was settled and said one of the issues with the violation was due to the club operating in a gray area.

"The club was always in sort of a gray area in terms of the way dues were collected and the speakers who were chosen to speak at events," Grimes said. "The rules apply to how you collect money and what you do with it."

According to the state, the Republican Club of Darien violated PAC rules because "the DRC provides Republican candidates with forums for municipal and statewide Republican candidates to `promote their candidacies,' and issues an Election Newsletter to support ... (its) `Republican candidates in their races against the Democrats in the November... municipal election.' Finally, the Commission finds that the DRC also solicits contributions for the Republican Party, and promotes greater participation of Darien Republicans in town affairs, the Republican Party and Republican voter registration."

Josh Foley, an attorney for SEEC, said the process for investigating the many complaints the state receives involves determining if the alleged violations are factual and in violation of campaign laws.

"The commission will get a recommendation to approve or deny an investigation and there are a range of recommendations that can be given," Foley said.

"Every complaint listed on our website has been investigated. The more difficult question with this investigation was determining whether they are a political committee."

The penalty levied against Grimes for the violation totaled $300 which Gallo said she believed Grimes paid. However, Gallo said one of the issues with the ruling was that Grimes signed a consent agreement which essentially admitted the club violated PAC rules.

"By Gwynne signing the consent agreement, she said it was a true statement and that the club was wrong," Gallo said. "It was then up to Gwynne to make sure the club was in compliance, but because she is no longer a Darien resident, the state told me they couldn't, and wouldn't, enforce it."

Gallo said the club wanted to present evidence, but the state ultimately decided to not let the club intervene.

"We felt we should having standing, but Gwynne instead chose to sign the consent agreement which meant we had no standing," Gallo said.

As a result of the complaint, Gallo said the club will continue to discuss the idea of filing as a PAC to prevent a similar incident from occurring again. However, she said her conversations with the state left her with the impression the club didn't need to file any paperwork. Grimes could not be reached for comment as of press time.

bholbrook@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/bholbrooknews; 203-972-4407