Community groups denounce Empower Montgomery political advertising

The Montgomery County League of Voters demands that Empower Montgomery stop sending out a flyer that slams county manager Marc Elrich and post a “public correction” for using the league name on this ad.

Other nonprofits listed in this flyer also took issue with the Empower Montgomery flyer, saying they never had permission to appear in what some of them see as an “attack ad.”

In the flyer sent to county households, Empower Montgomery accuses Elrich of opposing free rides on RideOn buses. He also asks readers to “join other organizations supporting the free RideOn bus service.”

“Why is County General Manager Marc Elrich opposed to the free RideOn bus service?” ” he asks.

In an interview, Elrich said he would support free bus rides if there was federal funding, to avoid financial loss to the county. Without this funding, it favors a reduced rate, but does not eliminate the rate.

The organizations listed on the shipment – including the Montgomery County League of Women Voters, Unlimited accommodation, the Sierra Club, the Transit Action Committee and the Coalition for Smarter Growth – said they did not know they would be listed on the flyer as allies of Empower Montgomery in the campaign for free buses and did not give permission.

They said that as nonprofits with 501 (c) 3 tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, they were prohibited from promoting or opposing candidates. policies. Rather, they are limited to promoting or opposing the problems.

Nancy Bliss and Vicky Strella, co-chairs of the Montgomery County League of Voters, emailed Empower Montgomery – with copies to Elrich and Montgomery County Council – to protest the use of the name of the league. They said this “may mean we approve of the tone and approach the shipper takes to the county executive.”

“We therefore call on Empower Montgomery to stop distributing the flyers online or in print, remove all electronic versions, including the web and social media, and issue a public correction indicating and correcting the error,” indicates the league email.

Charles Nulsen, the founder of Empower Montgomery, said in an interview that the group’s characterization of the flyer as an attack advertisement “is not an accurate portrayal.”

He said the leaflet was “not political” but rather “a call to action” for county residents to urge Elrich to make RideOn buses free.

The $ 2 fare on buses was suspended at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year and is expected to return in January.

The Empower Montgomery ad says Elrich must “stop his price hike proposal.” While Elrich doesn’t support free rates, he prefers to cut the rate in half – from $ 2 to $ 1 – when rates pick up.

Nulsen is a political supporter of David Blair, who challenges Elrich in a Democratic primary for the post of county director. Council members Hans Riemer and Tom Hucker are also in the race.

Nulsen, the chairman of a local commercial real estate company, said he plans to organize a fundraiser for Blair next month. According to the latest documents available from the IRS, the other officers and directors of Empower Montgomery are developers and great entrepreneurs.

As a 501 (c) 4 nonprofit, Empower Montgomery can only participate in partisan political activities as a side activity.

Although Blair’s name was previously listed on Empower Montgomery’s website as a co-founder with Nulsen, Blair said that was not true, despite being a former member and having donated money to the organization.

Nulsen said the organizations listed in the mail share Empower Montgomery’s belief that RideOn buses should remain free.

Some of these organizations, including the Transit Action Committee, belong to a group called the Montgomery Better Buses campaign which, among other things, supports free RideOn rides.

But, like the League of Women Voters, these organizations say they defend, but are not involved in political activities and the sender has crossed the line.

A flyer sent by Empower Montgomery

“They never asked if they could use our name in what was clearly attack advertising,” said James Hedrik, board member of the Transit Action Committee.

Jane Lyons of the Coalition for Smarter Growth said: “We are not happy to see that they have used our name without our consent, especially since we are a non-profit organization.

Shruti Bhatnagar, President of the Sierra Club of Montgomery County, said, “The Sierra Club has not allowed his name to be entered.

And Abe Schuchman, CEO of Housing Unlimited, said: “We have not authorized our name to be on the list and we will share it with Empower Montgomery.”

Elrich said bus fares in the county were removed because the federal government created a fund to reimburse state and local governments for expenses related to the pandemic.

He said the RideOn bus service with fares, after spending, earns the county about $ 20.5 million per year.

“We would be happy to continue (with free rates) if we continue to receive federal money,” Elrich said.

Without it, he proposed that fares be reinstated in January, but cut in half to $ 1 for individual rides and from $ 45 to $ 22.50 for monthly passes.

Empower Montgomery also booked a RideOn ad with digital outlets, including Bethesda Beat. The Bethesda Beat ad, however, does not refer to other nonprofits.

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