Several weeks ago, I contacted Joan Pasquale, the executive director of the Parents and Community Build Group (PCBG), to inquire about the possibility of volunteers for the Obama campaign running a voter registration table at the fair.
She responded and said that we could do it as long as we didn’t distribute any campaign literature. She claimed that allowing us to distribute campaign literature would threaten her organization’s 501c3 status.
That didn’t sound right to me. I was under the impression that the Allston-Brighton Parade was also organized by a 501c3, and the parade clearly has lots of politicians marching and handing out campaign literature. However, I didn’t want to question Ms. Pasquale without first verifying my facts. Therefore, I called the office of Rep. Michael Moran, which was organizing the parade, to confirm that the parade committee wa a 501c3. I also contacted a lawyer I know who is an expert on this type of thing and asked him for his opinion.
He said that 501c3’s are allowed to have politics at their events as long as they do so in a non-partisan manner. In this particular case, he said what that means is that if the street fair were to allow us to hand out Obama literature, they would also have to extend an invitation to the McCain campaign to participate as well.
Now that I had confirmation that PCBG could allow us to distribute campaign literature at the fair without threatening their 501c3 status, I wrote back to Ms. Pasquale as follows:
Thank you for your quick response.
I spoke about this with our lawyer, who is a nationally recognized expert on campaign finance law. He says, “A 501 c 3 cannot engage in partisan politics. However, such a group can invite all candidates or parties to participate in events, and non-partisan voter registration is a major project of many civic oriented 501 c 3s. If Jews for Obama sponsors voter reg, the fair organizers should also invite the Republicans. If the Republicans say they are not interested, the Dems can go ahead regardless.” He also suggested that I direct you to http://www.jcrcny.org/pdf/election/english.pdf.
Also, I just spoke with Rep. Moran’s office about the Allston-Brighton Parade. He says that donations to the parade go through the parade committee, which is a 501(c)3. Candidates for office appear in the parade and hand out literature every year, with no threat to the committee’s non-profit status.
In short, as long as a 501(c)3 is non-partisan and gives all major candidates’ supporters the opportunity to participate in its events, its 501(c)3 status is not in any way compromised by those supporters distributing campaign literature at those events.
Following through on our lawyer’s advice, you can contact the Massachusetts coordinator for John McCain’s campaign at Massachusetts@JohnMcCain.com. If you would like, I can email them and let them know what we are planning on doing and carbon copy you. Although frankly, I don’t think this is necessary — the parade and street fair are public knowledge, so if the McCain folks want to participate, they can find out about it and contact you just as I did.
Please let me know whether this addresses your concerns.
Ms. Pasquale responded and clarified that PCBG has made a conscious choice to be apolitical and doesn’t want any political campaigning at any of their events. She also threatened to have my group removed from the fair if we showed up and tried to campaign for Obama.
I responded as follows:
Thank you for clarifying your policy. I had misunderstood and thought you were saying that it would be illegal for any 501(c)3 to allow campaign literature to be distributed at one of its events. It appears that what you meant was that your particular organization has chosen to restrict itself from such activities. I can certainly understand why you would do that, and I appreciate that you took the time to explain it.
You have mentioned that we cannot distribute campaign materials from a voter registration booth. Please clarify whether we would be permitted to have Obama signage and/or have our volunteers wearing Obama T shirts and/or pins. Please also clarify whether we would be permitted to talk freely with people who approach us and initiate conversations, or whether you would expect us to actively decline to engage in political discussion.
We have no intention of attempting to violate your rules. If we find them unacceptable, then we simply won’t participate in the fair.
Ms. Pasquale did not respond, so I resent my message six days later and asked for her to respond.
Ms. Pasquale sent a response in which she (a) declined to answer the questions I had asked about what we would be permitted to do at the fair, claiming that the “policy was clearly stated and re-addressed in previous correspondence” (when in fact her previous emails to me said nothing about the specific questions I had asked); (b) informed me, “your Politcal [sic] Group is Not Welcome to participate in the Allston Village Street Fair”; and (c) requested, “Please do not contact us again regarding this matter.”
I responded as follows:
If your policy had been clearly stated, I would not have felt the need to ask additional questions.
As I told you before, it would not even have crossed my mind to violate your rules. If you had simply answered my questions politely, just as I was polite to you in all my correspondence, we could have reached a mutual understanding that participation in the fair by my group would not be appropriate.
Instead, you were peremptory and rude, and I will be letting the mayor, the city council, and the CDC know about your disrespectful and inappropriate manner. While I’m at it, I might just write a letter about it to the Globe, the Herald and the TAB.
Why you felt the need to treat me with such disrespect, when the outcome would have been the same had you been polite, is beyond me.
Ms. Pasquale sent me another message in which she claimed that my group was the first that had ever been refused participation in the fair (a claim which I suspect is not true, and in any case not terribly significant since as far as I know this is only the second event that her group has ever organized, the first being last year’s fair), and that we were refused participation, “based on your correspondence statements, tone, and what was determined as unprofessional behavior.”
In other words, Joan Pasquale decided that my group couldn’t participate in her fair because she doesn’t like me (and, by the way, the claim that my behavior was in any was unprofessional is completely and utterly specious).
Subsequent research has revealed that Ms. Pasquale has a history of trying to steam-roll over people with whom she disagrees.
In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth writing to the papers about, but I did send a letter to the mayor and a number of other individuals and organizations whom I thought were relevant:
Dear Mayor Menino,
I am writing to complain about the conduct of Ms. Joan Pasquale, co-chair of the Allston Village Street Fair.
I contacted Ms. Pasquale to arrange for a group of volunteers to operate a voter registration table at the fair. Ms. Pasquale initially agreed. However, after an exchange of several email messages in which I attempted to obtain clarification of the rules Ms. Pasquale wished for us to follow, she reversed her initial approval and declared that we would not be allowed to participate.
During our exchange, I stated explicitly that I had every intention of following Ms. Pasquale’s rules. There was no legitimate reason for our group to be excluded.
Throughout our exchange, I was unfailingly polite; in response, Ms. Pasquale treated me with rudeness. For example, in the message in which she informed me that we were being barred from the fair, she demanded that I not contact her again. This is simply unacceptable.
My family has lived in Brighton for over a decade. We are blessed to be raising our five children in a wonderful community. We have been civically active throughout our time here, supporting local organizations with both our time and our money, and we have always been impressed with the warmth, openness, and selflessness of the volunteers and non-profit organizers who help to make Boston a great place to live. Through her conduct, Joan Pasquale has shown herself to fall far below that gold standard. I ask you to think twice before allowing her in the future to exercise control over a public event, held on public property, intended to showcase the best of what our city has to offer.
CC: Councilor Mark S. Ciommo
Councilor John R. Connolly
Councilor Michael F. Flaherty
Councilor Stephen J. Murphy
Councilor Sam Yoon
Representative Michael J. Moran
Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation
Friends of Ringer Park
Allston Brighton Family Network