FRNCA members worried over prez’s political run

02/17/2011 3:14 PM |

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Some members of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association believe the group's president, Brad Bender, is jeopardizing FRNCA's non-profit status by publicly stating his intention to run for town councilman this fall.

Some members of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association want their president to step down, saying his plan to run for Southampton Town Board this fall could jeopardize the association’s tax-exempt status.

FRNCA president Brad Bender has said he will be a candidate and will step down as FRNCA president in April, so long as someone steps up to replace him.

At Monday’s FRNCA meeting, group member Richard Naso — quoting Internal Revenue Service law on nonprofit organizations — said that “organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.

“I like you a lot, Brad, but right now, you’ve put FRNCA in jeopardy and I’m only speaking because I don’t want to see FRNCA go down or lose its IRS status,” Mr. Naso said.

The nonprofit status enables the organization to seek grants and collect tax-deductible donations. He said FRNCA could risk losing that status because of Mr. Bender’s candidacy.

Mr. Bender said Tuesday that his own attorney, whom he wouldn’t name, had told him that being FRNCA president and a candidate wasn’t a problem. A conflict would arise only if he were elected, he said.

Mr. Bender is registered as an Independence Party member. He has held fundraisers and run campaign advertisements but he is not yet endorsed by any political party.

FRNCA member Janice Artandi said she thought Mr. Naso was misinterpreting the law. She said FRNCA is not allowed to support a candidate, but that doesn’t mean someone who happens to be involved in FRNCA isn’t allowed to be involved in politics.

IRS spokeswoman Diane Besunder declined comment this week on the law as it might affect FRNCA, saying that she could not discuss specific cases. She referred, however, to the same section of law that Mr. Naso had read from. The law does not address whether individual officers of a nonprofit organization could run for political office.

At Monday’s meeting, FRNCA member Chris Sheldon said he had concerns about Mr. Bender’s candidacy that went beyond FRNCA’s tax-exempt status.

He claimed Mr. Bender is hoping to run for a Town Board seat with Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst on the Democratic line; and he charged Mr. Bender had never notified FRNCA members of a meeting he had in November with Ms. Throne-Holst and developer Dede Gotthelf, who had planned to build a hotel in Riverhead but recently agreed to sell the site to the county as open space.

In that meeting, Ms. Gotthelf inquired about the town using some of its Community Preservation Funds to buy some of her land, an idea that was rejected, according to Mr. Sheldon. He said FRNCA members, who supported the hotel project, never found out about that meeting until after the county had agreed to buy the land for preservation in late December, and that FRNCA members had had no idea prior that Ms. Gotthelf was considering selling the land as open space.

“Had Brad shared that information, maybe we could have stepped in and done something,” Mr. Sheldon said.

In addition, Mr. Sheldon said Mr. Bender had supported a proposal to allow a Family Counseling Service drug treatment center to be built on land that had been planned as a hamlet center on the old drive-in property in Riverside. He said FRNCA members opposed that idea, but Mr. Bender initially supported it.

Mr. Bender said this week that FRNCA’s criticism of him is part of a “Republican agenda.”

tgannon@timesreview.com