November 11 2016
Letter to the Editor Calls for BACC Board Member to Resign; Cites Inaccurate Evidence
By: Rich Hosford
A Letter to the Editor published in the Burlington Union on Thursday signed by six Burlington residents is causing a bit of a stir, in part because one of the main thrusts of the argument appears to be based on an error.
The letter is in regards to Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce chairperson and vice-chair of the chamber’s Government Affairs Kelly Pappas and a guest column she wrote endorsing State Rep. Ken Gordon. In the column she talks about a candidate forum the chamber held with Gordon and his rival Republican Paul Girouard that she moderated.
“Most revealing were the candidates’ answers to the simple request to describe their legislative agenda if elected,” she wrote. “Gordon told us he would continue to focus on transportation, filing and advancing bills and budget amendments to address our district’s traffic concerns. Girouard said he would file nothing at all. His plan is to sit back while others do the work, and then decide if the legislation others had filed was beneficial to Burlington and to the state. When Gordon pointed out that he will be an active member of the legislature, working to advance or amend bills filed by himself or others before they come up for a vote, Girouard continued to insist that the most important role of the legislator was to vote on proposals filed and advanced by others.”
She then said that because of the difference in approaches the chamber had awarded Gordon an award and said members did not see a reason to have a change in representation.
“The stark contrast between these candidates led the BACC to award Gordon it's 2016 Partners in Community Prosperity Award,” she wrote. “We know that Girouard boasts of his endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business. The NFIB is a politically motivated group that does not know Burlington at all. The BACC stands in a better position to judge Gordon’s record against Girouard’s lack of preparedness. We have observed Gordon’s work, and having heard from Girouard, see no reason to change our reliable representation in the State House.”
The letter published this week claimed that Pappas had overstepped her boundaries when she wrote that column and called on her to resign.
“The BACC is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organization,” the letter reads. “The Internal Revenue Service mandates that 501(c)(3) organizations ‘are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.’ We encourage readers to do their own research on the rules that pertain to this type of organization at www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations.
The assertion of the tax filing status, however, was not accurate.
According to a response from the BACC the organization is not a 501(c)(3). It is a 501(c)(6) and according to the IRS that type of organization is allowed to engage in political lobbying and candidate endorsements as long as it is not its primary activity. The BACC does have a 501(c)(3) under in the form of its Charitable Foundation but the Government Affairs Committee does not fall under it.
Adam Senesi, one of the signers of the letter, who was joined by Ernest Zabolotney, Patricia Angelo, Monica Faiella, Steven Stamm and Mario O’Connor, said he still believes Pappas should resign because in his opinion her letter of endorsement after moderating the forum was inappropriate.
“In a presidential debate you’re not going to have Anderson Cooper moderate and then the next day write a column endorsing one of the candidates,” he told BNEWS. “I would continue to call on her to step down regardless until their board of directors reaches out to me directory to see how we can rectify this situation moving forward.”
Zabolotney said his reason for signing the letter was for a similar reason.
“My primary reason for participating in the letter was that it is inappropriate for anyone to be a moderator of a public political debate and issue a critique of that debate, in public discourse, as an adjudicator,” he said. “Action as either is appropriate but both, on the same subject and issue, is not, however well meaning and meritorious the efforts may be. Anyone offering to be a moderator really needs to adopt at least a modest veil of impartiality.”
The chamber is standing behind Pappas. In a letter that was sent to the Union in response and that was provided to BNEWS, Co-Chair of the BACC Board of Directors Sonia Rollins praised her involvement with the organization.
“Ms. Pappas is a highly respected Director with the BACC as a result of her business acumen and direct involvement in our community, schools and charitable causes,” Rollins wrote. “We believe this is one of the BACC’s strengths, as we have many members who not only work here by day but are also committed to this community in their personal lives.”
BACC President Rick Parker also defended Pappas, and the chamber, in an interview.
“It’s very disappointing when individuals choose to cast a shadow on an organization that is very committed to serving our community,” he said. “I am very proud of what the chamber does for our community and our members. We are very serious about our board members and when it comes comes to Kelly she embodies exactly what looking for. She is educated and not only committed to the business community but the community she lives in.”
For her part, Pappas said she wrote the letter as a resident.
“I wrote the letter as a citizen not as a member of the chamber,” she said in an interview. “I have absolutely no regrets.”