Citizens Group spars with election officials over financial disclosure

Election inspectors in the town of Lake George sign in a voter on General Election Day 2010.

Election inspectors in the town of Lake George sign in a voter on General Election Day 2010.

— The local group that’s been demanding openness from town government — and recently promoting a slate of its own candidates — is now wrangling with the county Board of Elections about whether the group has to reveal its finances.

Warren County Elections commissioners Mary Beth Casey and Bill Montfort said that according to evidence they’ve seen, the Lake George Citizens group has been actively promoting a slate of candidates for town of Lake George offices, and it needs to file full financial disclosure forms detailing all of its expenses.

The Citizens Group has been backing Dennis Dickinson for town Supervisor and Marisa Muratori and Dan Hurley for town board seats. Letters to taxpayers, plus campaign signs and other materials have cited the group’s name in promoting the three. They’ve also openly promoted a Meet the Candidates event for their slate.

Casey said such activities qualify them as an “authorized” political committee that must file full financial disclosure forms.

Citizens’ Group co-founder Joanne Gavin said she had reviewed her group’s status with state Board of Elections officials last week, and her impression was the group didn’t need to file full reports of funding.

But Casey said she talked to the state Board’s top attorneys Monday, and they said the group did need to fully disclose its finances, considering the apparent expenditures for mass mailings, printing and signs.

Gavin said Monday the group was informal, had no bank account, had accepted in-kind donations, and candidates were paying out-of-pocket for the various expenses.

But Casey said such joint participation in funding between the group and the candidates needs to be fully revealed. She said that authorized political committees should have filed financial disclosure forms in August, September and October.

While some area residents have speculated that a powerful political figure with a hidden agenda is behind the Citizens Group, Gavin has maintained the organization is a grassroots group committed to reform and openness.

G.O.P. town board candidate Caryl Clark criticized the group, which has fought for transparency, for avoiding making their finances public.

“With their political expertise, they should have known better than try to operate under the radar of the state election law,” she said. “In their situation, hypocrisy reigns.”

Gavin responded that if her group does file the full financial forms, they are likely to merely show minor expenditures, with no surprises.

“We’ve always told the truth, and there’s no reason not to now,” she said.

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