The chairman of the state Republican Party has accused a grass-roots, anti-Trump progressive group in Greenwich of violating state election law during the recent municipal campaign, which saw Democrats make major gains in the traditional Republican stronghold.
In a complaint filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, JR Romano said Indivisible Greenwich raised money for political activity without registering as a political committee, “under the guise of being a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.”
Officials with the organization say it is registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, and as such is allowed to engage in limited political activity. On its website, Indivisible Greenwich says the group is “committed to resisting the Trump agenda” while maintaining it is nonpartisan and “issues-focused.”
But in his complaint, Romano included social media postings from Indivisible Greenwich recommending support of specific candidates for local office.
In one posting, Indivisible Greenwich shared an opinion piece written by Sandy Litvack, the Democratic first selectman, and called him “the leader we would like to see in office come November.” The post said people who wanted to help with Litvack’s campaign could message Indivisible Greenwich.
“It looks as though their 100 percent focus was to elect people,” Romano said. “That’s not advocacy. That’s a political PAC.”
Joanna Swomley, a founder of Indivisible Greenwich, disputed that characterization.
“We identified candidates that reflected our values and our views, as many groups and associations and businesses do all the time,” she said. “We spent no money on campaigns or elections.”
Indivisible Greenwich spent money to host several events in the months before Election Day, but Swomley said they were nonpartisan and no expenditures were made on behalf of specific candidates. She noted that Indivisible’s recommended candidates were not all Democrats and their advocacy extends beyond elections to policy issues, like the tax proposals currently before Congress.
Swomley said her organization views Romano’s complaint “as an attempt to chill our First Amendment rights” and believes Republicans were “unhappy with our civic engagement.”
Romano said a chief concern he has with groups like Indivisible Greenwich is transparency. As nonprofits, they are not required to disclose who their donors are.
“So one person could fund it with $1 million and nobody would know,” he said.
Election officials will decide whether to investigate the complaint at a future meeting.
Indivisible Greenwich is part of the network of anti-Trump “resist” groups that some have credited with Democratic victories in municipal races nationwide earlier this month for their efforts to energize liberal voters.
In Greenwich, Democrats captured the chairmanship of the powerful finance board for the first time in decades and the race for first selectman was tighter than many expected.
Many of the record number of new candidates who ran for seats on Greenwich’s 230-member Representative Town Meeting were encouraged to run by groups like Indivisible Greenwich.
“I think there was a huge Trump effect, not only in Greenwich but across the country,” Swomley said. “You saw it at the polls.”
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