Supervisor questions GOP’s new campaign fund rule

Supervisor Sean Walter. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)
Supervisor Sean Walter. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)

The battle between Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and town Republican leader Mason Haas continues.

Mr. Walter said the GOP leader has now banned Town Board members from attending Republican committee meetings, and that the committee now has a rule requiring candidates to give one-third of their campaign funds over to the committee.  

The two have feuded since last year, when Mr. Haas, an elected town assessor, became town leader. Mr. Walter, who did not support Mr. Haas for town leader, has proposed ethics rules that would ban elected officials from holding political party leadership positions, although thus far, it doesn’t have the support from the rest of the Town Board.

Mr. Haas said a new rule approved by the Republican committee Wednesday does in fact require candidates to give over one-third of the campaign funding to the committee.

But he says there’s no penalty for not doing so.

Mr. Walter, who was not at the meeting, said a lawyer associated with the committee, whom he wouldn’t identify, said that candidates unwilling to give a third of their campaign funds would not receive the party’s nomination to run. Mr. Walter said he believes that would be illegal.

“You can’t condition nominations based on amount of money paid to committee,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Haas said there is no such penalty in the rule.

“He wasn’t there, he’s quoting a third party,” Mr. Haas said. “There was a lot of discussion at the meeting Wednesday.”

Martin Keller, a former Riverhead Republican chairman who was at the meeting, said he agreed with Mr. Walter.

Mr. Keller said someone asked what happens if a candidate doesn’t agree to give 33 percent and former committee vice chair George Harkin said, “then they won’t get our support.”

“That sounds to me like extortion,” said Mr. Keller, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Haas for town GOP chairman last fall.

Brian Mills, another committee member, said what Mr. Walter alleges “was never said.”

The plan says that after Election Day 2014, candidates will be required to give 33 percent of their campaign money to the committee, he said in an interview.

It doesn’t say anything about punishment, he said.

And Mr. Harkin said his point was that, “I personally, would not support them.”

Mr. Harkin is now back on the committee, but not in a leadership position. He said that even if someone said something like that, it would need to be approved by the entire committee.

“The motion I made was ‘To require all elected officials and candidates to contribute 1/3 of their net fundraising to the Riverhead Republican Committee beginning Election Day 2014,’ Mr. Harkin said. “The motion was seconded and overwhelmingly support by almost 90 percent of the vote.”

“The committee spends a lot of money on campaigns, and they need some support too,” Mr. Haas said.

Political committees in other towns have similar rules, he said.

Mr. Walter said he’s not aware of any other towns with such a rule.

“I just think it’s a little odd for them to ban elected officials from committee,” Mr. Walter said.

The Riverhead Republicans have won all five Town Board seats for the past three elections, he said.

As for the Town Board members being “banned” from committee meetings, Mr. Haas said that only members of the committee and invited guests are allowed to attend committee meetings.

Currently, none of the Town Board members are committee members, although they are all Republicans.

Councilman George Gabrielsen had been a committee member and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio was an alternate committee member, but both recently resigned in the wake of town discussions regarding new ethics proposals.

The Town Board recently held a public hearing on a proposal that would prohibit Town Board members from serving on the executive board of a political party. However, that proposal has yet to be adopted, and would not prohibit them from serving as committee members, in non-leadership posts.

Mr. Haas said the Town Board members weren’t invited to the committees recent meetings because the focus has been on the upcoming Congressional primary and they’ve had guests from Republican Congressional candidate Lee Zeldin’s campaign at the last two meetings.

[email protected]