Saturday's sunny skies are supposed to be the picture perfect backdrop for the annual Old Greenwich School PTA Pumpkin Patch—a community gathering for families with a haunted house, hay maze, pumpkins ... and given the season, politics.
The chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee is challenging the PTA's request by email that while candidates for office are welcome, they cannot distribute any campaign-related materials.
According to Lisa Beth Savitz, past president of the Greenwich PTA Council and a board member of the Connecticut PTA Council, "Out of courtesy, the PTA notified the two political town committees that we’re not supposed to allow campaigning but that everyone is welcome to come to a public event. And particularly in the case of a current town official they would have been invited as a town official not a political candidate."
Savitz explained, "The letter that was sent, simultaneously invited Democratic and Republican committees to attend and said that distribution of any campaign materials endangers the PTA's tax-exempt status, according to IRS regulations." Savitz said the Old Greenwich PTA is following guidelines issued by both the state and federal PTA councils regarding non-profit tax exempt regulations.
Upon receiving the email, Greenwich DTC Chair Frank Farricker fired off an email challenging the IRS ban. "The idea that somehow that they’re tax-exempt status is jeopardized as a PTA that is abject nonsense, completely utterly untrue. It’s pernicious the way groups have been restricting campaigning and discussion of issues," Farricker said.
Farricker added, "It’s an attempt to muzzle freedom of speech and I’m not going to be a part of it. I told my candidates to pay like everyone else and take their buttons and stickers. Not to do it at a building that my taxpayer dollars pay for, in a building that is open to the public at all times, a public event that anyone can attend, the politicians have become second-class citizens."
Farricker said of the Democratic candidates, "They’re all thinking about it, it’ll be a game-time decision. They’ll make the determination of what it is they want to do. There should not be a separate set of rites for people running for office and everybody else." He added, "I just don’t think that people should feel, regardless of circumstance, that freedom of speech should not be heard."
Democratic Selectman Drew Marzullo called the situation "Pumpkin-Gate" The two-term incumbent said, "Never, ever, ever, mess with PTA women, especially three weeks from Election Day."
Marzullo added, "Half of the ballet is trying to remind people there is a municipal election taking place and anytime there's a place for candidates to hand out their crap, they will. But this is about balance and respect and that is what the PTA is trying to relay. I read the email and didn't conclude the PTA was trying to block people from attending or from exercising freedom of speech."
Republican Town Committee Chair Jim Campbell declined to comment on the situation.
The Old Greenwich School Pumpkin Patch continues until 4 p.m. on the grounds of the school on Sound Beach Avenue.