With just $99,318 in his campaign account, Oz Griebel joined Tom Foley in a legal action Monday to block their rival in the GOP race for governor, Michael C. Fedele, from $2.18 million in public financing.
Lawyers for Griebel and Foley told Superior Court Judge Julia L. Aurigemma that elections officials erred in approving the money for Fedele. UPDATE: Injunction denied.
The joint court action is the latest example of twisting alliances in the closing weeks of a volatile, three-way race for the Republican nomination.
Previously, Griebel has joined Fedele in suggesting Foley is unfit for office. Trailing in the polls and lagging in funds, Griebel appears to be in the greatest need of a game-changer.
An hour after court adjourned, Griebel’s campaign filed a report showing that he raised $151,490 in the quarter ending June 30, giving him a five-month total of $453,816 – and less than $100,000 on hand.
Unless Griebel and Foley succeed in court, Fedele will have more than $2 million to spend over the next four weeks, 20 times the resources available to Griebel.
But the legality of Fedele’s public financing award suddenly is in question. And Foley, who has nearly $1.2 million in campaign cash on hand and the personal wealth to supplement that, is struggling with new questions about a nasty divorce and two long-ago arrests.
“There is some interesting stuff going on,” said Ashley Maagero, Griebel’s campaign manager. “Foley’s background continues to be exposed, and there is the question of whether or not Fedele qualifies.”
Griebel’s interests overlapped with Foley’s Monday, rather than precisely coinciding. His legal counsel, Daniel Papermaster, was as critical of Foley as of Fedele.
On the law, they agree on one point: The State Elections Enforcement Commission erred when it allowed Fedele and his running mate, Mark D. Boughton, to join their campaign finances.
Fedele has raised $228,232 in contributions of $100 or less. Only when Boughton’s contributions were included did Fedele reach the qualifying threshold of $250,000.
But lawyers for Foley and Griebel say that was improper, because some of the same donors gave $100 to both Fedele and Boughton, in effect boosting the maximum donation to $200.
About $24,000 should be disallowed, they said.
“That’s a subversion of what the law’s intent was,” Papermaster said.
Foley’s lawyer, Daniel J. Krisch, also has questioned whether an endorsed candidate can team with a challenger. Boughton was endorsed for lieutenant governor by the GOP convention, while the gubernatorial endorsement went to Foley.
The Foley campaign also argues that even if Fedele did qualify for public financing, the commission gave him too much money.
The commission awarded Fedele a basic grant of $1.25 million, plus a supplemental grant of $937,500 triggered by Foley’s spending since entering the race.
But his campaign says that only spending after the nominating convention in May should count towards the calculation of any supplemental grant.
R. Bartley Halloran, a lawyer for Fedele, said his client has simply followed the rules as laid out by the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
With just four days until the deadline for qualifying for public financing, Fedele would be hard-pressed to meet the $250,000 threshold without Boughton’s contribution, he said.
The legal challenges by Foley and Griebel are timed to inflict “maximum disruption” to the Fedele campaign, Halloran said.
The harm caused to Fedele by an injunction barring him from spending the public funds would be irreparable, he said.
The elections commission adopted an advisory opinion on June 3 stating that Fedele and Boughton could join forces. Foley’s campaign failed to formally challenge the opinion by seeking a declaratory ruling from the commission, the administrative step necessary to appeal the opinion.
“The SEEC has no dog in this fight,” said Perry Zinn-Rowthorn, the associate attorney general defending the commission.
The panel’s interest is avoiding chaos in the weeks before the primary, undermining confidence in the program by future candidates.
“That would be very chilling,” he said.
Justin Clark, the campaign manager for Foley, harshly criticized the commission’s leadership for approving the grants to Fedele, calling them biased.
“This bias discredits the program and reveals an inherent conflict within the SEEC. Members of the SEEC and the SEEC staff have a strong interest in having candidates receive grants and get elected. If the SEEC persists in this bias, the CEP will have created a corruption of our elections that is worse than the problems it was intended to resolve,” Clark said.
Papermaster said that criticism was unjust — and should turn voters away from Foley.
“We strongly disagree with their interpretation of the statutes, but at the end of the day, there’s been no evidence whatsoever that these state employees are biased… To suggest otherwise is totally inappropriate,” Papermaster said. “If that’s the way Foley is going to govern, if you disagree with Foley you are biased and corrupt, that’s not what we want for the kind of people to run this state.”