Local democrats at odds over money for political action committee

Recent litigation is fueling an unusual amount of activity in a midterm election year for local democrats, as officers of a local club’s executive board prepare for court over a money debacle.

Several years of conflict came to a head last month when group members Rudy Mann, Zephyr Tate-Man and Bob Gerecke, representing the Inland Communities Democratic Political Action Committee (PAC), filed a complaint against the Democratic Club of Claremont (DCC), its president Gar Byrum and former treasurer Debi Evans for claimed fraud and breach of contract, among other allegations.

The complaint was filed, according to Ms. Tate-Mann, in response to a letter sent to the PAC in late February from an attorney representing Mr. Byrum and the Claremont democrats, asking for reimbursement of what the DCC considered a $12,600 loan to the regional political action group in 2009 to go toward the purchase of permanent regional headquarters.  The demand letter further states that failure to repay the amount would result in the matter being taken to court.

Ms. Tate-Mann and Mr. Gerecke, currently vice president of the DCC, maintain that the PAC doesn’t owe any money to the local club and, in fact, are owed $64,000, as stated in the complaint file March 11. An itemized accounting for the $64,000 figure wasn’t provided. However, Ms. Tate-Mann holds that the PAC’s attorney has the information necessary should court proceedings move forward.

“We believe that their ultimate objective is not just to extort $12,600 from the PAC, but to destroy the PAC by trying to force it to spend money in a lawsuit that is based on false allegations, personal smears in its pleadings, and misrepresentations,” she said in a statement shared in person with the COURIER. Mr. Gerecke accompanied her.

The DCC has responded to the PAC’s lawsuit with litigation of its own, claiming the trio of PAC members are involved in “fraud, embezzlement and misappropriation of fundraising funds.”

The conflict centers on donations raised during the 2008 presidential election. A temporary democratic headquarters, located by Mr. Byrum but paid for by regional democratic clubs, was set up at Garey Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. Miscellaneous merchandise—lawn signs, bumper stickers and the like—was given out in exchange for donations. In the end, proceeds were then to be split among the groups involved, according to DCC’s treasurer at the time, Merrill Ring, who says the DCC’s share was $12,600.

In early 2009, DCC executives said they were approached by executives of the PAC, who were asking for monetary support in their quest to set up a permanent regional office for local Democrats. In a promissory note dated October 17, 2009, provided by the DCC’s attorney Daren Hengesbach, the DCC agreed, in writing, to loan the PAC $12,600 for this endeavor.

The promissory note, signed by Mr. Mann and Bob Gerecke on behalf of the PAC and by Mr. Byrum and Debi Evans on behalf of the DCC, establishes that “if the PAC succeeds in establishing such a facility, this loan will be forgiven and will at that time become a contribution.” It further states that the PAC will “repay this amount without interest when and if the PAC abandons its effort to establish a facility for use by Democratic candidates and organizations.”

At a DCC meeting in late February, during an agenda item calling for an accounting of club funds, the 2013-2014 board reviewed the outstanding loan.

“In the absence of a regional headquarters, it was determined at that point in time that they had an obligation to the people who donated the money and the members of the DCC to find where this large chunk of money is,” Mr. Hengesbach said in a meeting with the COURIER late last week. Mr. Byrum and Mr. Ring were both in attendance.  

 “The President of the PAC, Rudy Mann, personally found the sources of the swag [donation merchandise], arranged for its purchase and delivery, picked it up at his own expense for gasoline when delivery was not available, set up the displays in the headquarters building, set the level of donation required to obtain each piece of [merchandise], marketed it to visitors to the headquarters everyday from opening to closing time…he did this with the explicit understanding that he was raising money for the PAC,” Ms. Tate-Mann said.

According to both parties, verbal requests for an accounting of the $12,600 were made over the years, however, Ms. Tate-Mann explains that there was never anything in writing asking for an accounting.

“Who’s going to pay for an accounting?” Ms. Tate-Mann posed. “The PAC appropriated all the money and effort for the swag and the promotion was all done by Rudy [Mann]. The facts are that Rudy raised all the money.”

The DCC refutes this claim.

“It’s no different then a Girl Scout who sells Girl Scout cookies and then says, ‘You know what, it’s my efforts that got the money, I’m keeping it,’” Mr. Hengesbach said.

Confirmation of the PAC’s date of formation was not readily available. According to records filed with the Federal Election Campaign Commission (FECC), the Inland Communities PAC did not report campaign financing until October of 2009. Ms. Tate-Mann explains that prior to 2009 the PAC operated under another name, the Fair Action Think Tank, which she claims was founded in 2003. No records of that organization exist with the FECC, created in 1974 to help regulate laws relating to campaign finances, among its chief duties is to make campaign finances available to the public. She says this is because the group came into existence when “reportings were not done electronically as they are now.”

Much remains in question as the PAC’s attorneys prepare a response to the DCC’s lawsuit and both sides, seeing no easy solution, prepare themselves for court. Both sides have expressed disappointment in the increasing divide litigation is causing in the DCC membership.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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