Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Campaign Mailing Splits Power Plant Candidates

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—It didn’t take long before Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart’s supporters began calling, emailing and Facebooking him to make him aware of a bright yellow political endorsement that arrived in 3,000 residents’ mailboxes over the weekend from anti-power plant group Stop The Power that most noticeably excluded his name from city council candidates in the Nov. 8 election who are against the proposed $350 million natural gas power plant.
“I didn’t receive it, I guess I’m no longer on the list, but I received a number of (phone) calls, emails and messages on Facebook about it,” Stewart said in a telephone interview Monday with BrocktonPost.com.
“Regardless of how I found out about it, I am definitely against the power plant,” Stewart said, adding he has responded to the exclusion on Facebook and in the media because he wants to make sure his supporters and those inclined to vote for his reelection understand he is against the power plant.
However, a leader and money behind Stop The Power, Eddie Byers, owner of Cindy’s Kitchen, a Brockton salad dressing manufacturer, said he paid for the mailing and Stewart’s name was left off the endorsement for a reason.
“We’re not going to endorse someone who uses words like ‘contingency plan’ and ‘mitigation,’ as part of the fight against the power plant,” Byers said. “We endorsed candidates who are completely on our side—not those who are negotiating with the power plant people,” Byers said.
The candidates Stop The Power has endorsed for councilor-at-large are newcomer Kate Archard, who many see as a Stop The Power insider, and incumbent councilors Robert Sullivan and Thomas Brophy.
The mailing also supports for reelection the 6 other councilors who are running unopposed and supports incumbent Ward 3 Councilor Dennis Eaniri and his opposition Gerald Conefrey.
Todd Petti, who has been the only city councilor, state representative or state senator in favor of the power plant, was also left off Stop The Power’s endorsement, but many said that is to be expected.
The rift between Stop the Power and Stewart became public during the summer when Stewart angered and upset Stop The Power forces when, in a private meeting with Stop The Power activists suggested the group consider a “worst-case scenario” in case the power plant won legal cases or regulatory battles and the city was forced to allow the plant be constructed.
During the private meeting Stewart told Stop The Power activists he had met with former Mayor Jack Yunits about money, services and other mitigation the power plant could offer the city in the event the plant received approvals.
Stewart calls the meeting a responsible move by an elected councilor to protect the city’s interest in the face of potential backlash from the Stop The Power coalition. He likened a contingency plan in case of defeat to that if the Brockton Rox are unable to pay its debts and the city has to take over payments for the stadium's construction.
Stop The Power members and Byers call it a back-door play, a “betrayal” and “stab in the back” and they want their members to know Archard, Brophy, and Sullivan have not said one thing in public and another in private.
Stewart has he is disappointed in Stop The Powers’ mailing, but is not surprised, because the rift has become a divide and now the group is actively against his reelection, calling saying he expected something negative about his reelection, but not to exclude him as someone in favor of the power plant--similar to Petti's stance.
"I think it's a bit more of a shady play than I expected," he said.
Stewart said he was the first city official to publicly announce his opposition to the power plant during his unsuccessful run for mayor against James Harrington beginning in 2006 and culminating in Harrington’s reelection by a slim margin.
Stop The Power members are disputing the claim, saying Ward 6 Councilor Michelle DuBois was the first public official against the plant.
In 2009, when Stewart ran for councilor-at-large, Stop The Power supported Stewart in similar mailings while excluding others, like former Yunits staff member Mark Lucas who Byers said flip-flopped on his stance toward the power plant.
Two years later the group has sent a similar mailing excluding Stewart, and possibly splitting its supporters between Archard and Stewart for one of the four councilor-at-large seats.
Byers said the mailing isn’t about Archard even though she is a staunch supporter of Stop The Power, rather it’s about the fight against the power plant and letting Stop The Power’s supporters know who is on their side.
“If Jass didn’t say he was meeting with Yunits to negotiate and met with Yunits…his name would be on there,” Byers said.
Byers said two years ago he personally paid for a similar mass mailing and he did the same during this election.
Two years ago Lucas raised questions about Byers’ and Stop The Powers' campaign expenditures and timely filing of financial disclosures.
Byers said those disclosures were a couple of days late and he is following the advice of his lawyer Paul Glickman to make sure he is doing everything required under the state’s Office of Political and Campaign Finance.
BrocktonPost.com has contacted Glickman and the Secretary of State, which oversees the Office of Political and Campaign Finance, to clarify Byers’ and Stop The Power’s requirements under the law.
Glickman said Byers paid for the mailing as an individual and not as a group or corporation and a filing will be submitted to the city’s Election Commission within the deadline.
A draft filing states Byers paid $1,507 for the mailing, including the 3,000 postcards, postage and tax.
Questions have been raised whether Stop The Power is a political action committee or a group, but Glickman said because Stop The Power does not raise any money—it all comes from Byers—it is not a political action committee, and although there are activists involved with Stop The Power, Stop the Power is Eddie Byers and not a group because mailings and other activities are paid for by no one other than Byers.
According to Jason Tait, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s campaign finance office, in general an independent expenditure has limits if any of the candidates who were supported were consulted before the endorsement went out and if there was consultation there are different spending limits for individuals and groups.
Tait said if the candidate or candidates were consulted the expenditure would be considered an in-kind contribution and individuals would be limited to spending $500 and a group would be capped at $15,000 or 10 percent of the group’s general fund or treasury.

Otherwise, an individual can spend an unlimited amount of money, but must disclose the expenditures as required by law.
Kate Archard said she knew the mailing was going to go out and it was being worked on by Byers’ consultant, but she did not have any hand in its inception, design or final product approval.
Other candidates could not immediately be reached for comment.
Glickman said he did not believe Archard’s involvement prior to the mailing rises to the level of consultation under the law and believes Byers is taking all of the right steps to disclose expenditures in the campaign.
Whether the mailing has an impact on election results remains to be seen.
Voters can choose up to 4 of the 5 candidates in the councilor-at-large race and can decide to cast all of those votes or hold some back.
Stewart said he has had positive responses from supporters since the mailing and believes voters will see his overall record and understand he met with Yunits to protect the city and he is still firmly against the power plant whether or not Byers and others believe otherwise.
Byers said the mailing wasn’t an endorsement against Stewart, it was a way to tell power plant opponents which candidates have been resolute in their opposition to the power plant and voters will decide for themselves.
“They’ve got a 4th pick…I just didn’t feel good enough to have Jass on the list,” Byers said. “People want to know who is with us and who isn't,” he said.

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