Blurring the lines: Roth’s charity work raises questions

  • Mitch Roth

Mayoral candidate Mitch Roth removed a post from his Facebook campaign page after questions were raised about the portrayal of volunteers wearing his campaign T-shirts while helping at a nonprofit feeding station at a county facility.

Roth said Friday he didn’t consider the activity campaigning. There were no campaign materials there, nor did he ask for people’s votes, he said. He said he was asked to volunteer.

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“I didn’t look at it as campaigning,” Roth said. “I look at it as helping the community at a time it needs help. There are a lot of people going through a very rough time and we should be helping people.”

The photo of Roth, who is not wearing a campaign shirt, along with two fellow volunteers who are, was taken at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. The photo accompanied a message that, “in collaboration with the Food Basket, we are serving food to those in need during this difficult time.”

Food Basket Executive Director Kristin Frost Albrecht said “it was kind of a surprise to us,” when Roth and his group showed up to volunteer. She said he was asked by a third party.

Albrecht said her nonprofit hasn’t asked any candidates or candidate committees to volunteer.

“We’re Switzerland,” she said about being careful not to appear to endorse candidates. “I tell my staff that all the time.”

In addition, Albrecht said, she has a rule that no campaign attire can be worn at the feeding events.

“Our policy is if they have campaign T-shirts, they have to go change their shirt or they have to leave,” she said.

Roth said he will probably ask his volunteers not to wear campaign T-shirts at future nonprofit events.

“I don’t think what they were doing is wrong but just to aid that appearance I probably will,” he said.

The IRS and the state Department of the Attorney General regularly warn nonprofit charities that appearing to be aligned with one candidate over another could violate their tax-exempt status.

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A 2018 press release from the attorney general cautions nonprofits to “monitor website links and review social media content to ensure that political material cannot be connected to the tax-exempt organization.”

County facilities that are available to the public for use may be used for political activities on the same basis as the facilities are available to the general public, according to the county ethics code.

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