Rebecca Maurer, Cleveland’s 12th District City Council candidate, has filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, arguing that the Council Leadership Fund, a political action committee controlled by Council President and candidate mayor Kevin Kelley, does far more than that maximum legally allowed for the incumbent has donated to The Campaign by Anthony Brancatelli.
Brancatelli and Maurer took the top two spots in the Ward 12 ward council area code earlier this month. Maurer, an attorney who drafted the legislation for Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing, got Brancatelli with just 80 votes.
The Council Leadership Fund is a PAC that supports existing officials on behalf of the Council President and has been used in the past as a weapon to suppress dissent. It wrote Brancatelli a check for $ 3,000 in July, the maximum allowed by the city charter. But later it paid for three pro-Brancatelli mailers at Ward 12, donations in kind valued at thousands of dollars.
Maurer filed the complaint Thursday, it said, only after giving Brancatelli and the Council Leadership Fund the benefit of the doubt. She wrote a letter to Brancatelli’s campaign asking him to repay the excess contributions.
“I assume that this Council Leadership Fund expenditure and the subsequent inaccurate information submitted by your campaign was an oversight,” wrote Maurer. âIt’s easy to fix. We ask for donations in kind from [three mailers] will be properly reported to the electoral committee and that the cost of such mail will be reimbursed to the Council Leadership Fund so that the fund does not exceed the $ 3,000 spending limit. ”
As Maurer states in her complaint, the Council Leadership Fund, which donated the maximum, is excluded from participating in campaign activities “in coordination, cooperation or consultation with” a campaign.
Even so, the PAC paid for the three pieces of mail and sent them to the residents of Ward 12, which consists of Slavic Village on the east side and parts of Old Brooklyn, Brooklyn-Center and Tremont on the west side. All mail purported to come from Brancatelli personally.
“There is no great secret here,” wrote Maurer in a social media thread explaining the complaint on Friday. âThese mailers use the official logo, phone number and email address of the incumbent. They are written by the incumbent – they say âIâ and âmineâ. One even has a letter asking people to vote, signed by the incumbent. These three mailers have undoubtedly cost thousands and thousands of dollars to print and mail. And because the PAC sent these out, I don’t think the incumbent sent a single post that he paid for – one of the biggest expenses in a campaign. ”
All three mail items were paid for by the Council Leadership Fund and the complaint alleges that the coordination between the Fund and Brancatelli appears “clear”.
Councilor Brancatelli, when reached by email, denied involvement. “I do not control or approve spending on the Council Leadership Fund,” he wrote, calling on Scene to obtain a statement from the fund itself.
The fund is controlled by Kevin Kelley. His campaign spokeswoman said she believed the issue had been raised before and that there was no violation, but she was unable to review or come up with an official statement within our deadline.
Brancatelli’s claim is that the mailers were “independent expenses” paid for and produced by the Council Leadership Fund without its involvement. Rebecca Maurer’s campaign says that even if that were true – which is highly unlikely – the Council Leadership Fund would be breaking another campaign funding law by “posing as Brancatelli and not containing the correct disclaimers”. The first of the three mailers literally contains a letter to residents personally signed by Brancatelli.
“From a campaign perspective, this looks like textbook coordination,” said Nora Kelley, Rebecca Maurer’s campaign treasurer. (No relationship with Kevin). âThe letter is signed by the candidate and the campaign logo is on the mailer. But chances are the Council Leadership Fund did so without Councilor Brancatelli’s consent. Either of them must be true. ”
In a follow-up interview, Maurer told Scene that the complaint had basic reasons why it started its campaign in the first place: to promote transparency and accountability in the government.
“We should play fair and play by the rules,” she said, “but it’s not just about following rules to obey rules. In small campaigns, those are really high stakes. When [Brancatelli] receives multiple pieces of mail from the Council Leadership Fund that are thousands and thousands of dollars not to spend. And, on the flip side, if the Council Leadership Fund can pretend to be a council member and send infinite mail to the community claiming it is an independent issue, it is clearly against the rules. It is difficult for us to concentrate on the essentials on the ward. ”
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