The Back Battle of the Morris County Victory PAC

The organizers of the Morris Republican Victory PAC are telling their critics to step out of the shadows or shut up.  Or else.

The tough talk is in response to a complaint letter sent last December to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission alleging that the Victory PAC is violating state election law.

“It is disheartening to have to defend such a well-regarded and productive organization from these baseless and false charges,” Alan Zakin, a lawyer involved with the PAC since its founding in 2005, said in a prepared statement. “However, the libelous and patently false claims have become so widespread _ repeated to numerous Republican organizations and the media – that they have damaged our ability to provide the maximum possible support to Republican candidates.”

The substance of the complaint is that the Victory PAC is an independent expenditure committee, and as such, cannot contribute direct to individual candidates or their campaigns. On a global scale a lot of so-called super PACs have surfaced nationally after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that essentially legitimized them. Back in Morris County, the complaint notes that the Victory PAC contributed directly to many local and county campaigns last fall and that officials openly talked about it at rallies.

Zakin does not dispute the contributions. His statement said that in “2017 alone, (the Victory PAC) was proud to raise over $100,000 in support of Republican candidates in 20 Morris towns as well as our party’s standard-bearer, the Republican nominee for governor, Kim Guadagno.”

But he said all this was proper because the group is a continuing Political Action Committee and not an independent expenditure organization. His statement says that has been the case since the Victory PAC was registered with the state on Oct. 21, 2005.

On one hand, this is a dispute about the technicalities of election law. But more broadly, it’s a sign of continuing rancor in the party over the race for county chairman this June when the seat will be open.

The candidates at this juncture are Ronald DeFilippis and Robert Zwigard (pictured).

A letter accompanying the complaint specifically mentioned Zwigard’s connection to the Victory PAC. The mention of Zwigard, who really has not been a player in Morris Republican politics until relatively recently, hardly seems coincidental.

ELEC, which oversees election law in New Jersey, does not confirm nor deny pending investigations. But complaints resulting in penalties are made public.

The issue here, of course, is not so much if the complaint bears fruit. Its intention clearly seems to be to embarrass Zwigard and his supporters.

That can explain some of the harsh rhetoric in Zakin’s statement. It notes that “comments that have come back to us make it clear that the source of these allegations is within the Morris County Republican party itself.”

And Zakin adds, “For fellow Morris Republicans to criticize a long-established organization whose support has been integral to the success of Morris Republican candidates for 12 years – and to criticize such support – demonstrates extraordinary party disloyalty, gross negligence and woeful ignorance of New Jersey’s election law.”

The statement concludes with a challenge to the Victory PAC’s detractors “to immediately come out in the sunshine and go public with their specific complaints of illegal activity that our continuing political action committee is supposedly participating in.”  Moreover, it asks the critics to “cease and desist” or face the prospect of legal; action.

It’s unclear, of course, exactly who any legal action will target.

But it’s quite clear that the internal battle among Morris Republicans will continue to simmer, or perhaps even boil.

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