POUGHKEEPSIE – Members of the disbanded Independent Reapportionment Committee for Dutchess County are using a crowd-sourcing platform to raise money for legal fees. County officials are calling the initiative illegal and are calling on GoFundMe to halt the fundraiser.
The committee was disbanded in June when officials learned that a member of appointed by the Democratic leadership of the legislature violated the rules. County Executive Marc Molinaro has been tasked with developing a new independent committee.
Whitney Lundy of Hyde Park created the fundraiser that has raised more than $9,000 to pay for attorney Emily Svenson, a former Hyde Park town board member to challenge the dissolution in court. Lundy and four other members of the disbanded commission say in their fundraising plea, “We’re not giving up on our mission. We’re not giving up on our county. The law does not allow a do-over. The County Attorney does not get to destroy a nonpartisan commission,” They further explained the fundraiser saying, “We have secured legal counsel and will be filing suit against the County to stop their unlawful power grab and protect voting rights in Dutchess County.”
County Attorney Caroline Blackburn and Karen Hagstrom, Attorney to the Dutchess County Legislature sent a letter to Lundy, claiming that the page is a false representation. The letter to Lundy referencing the GoFundMe page says in part, “private individuals hold themselves out as representatives of the County of Dutchess and/or the Dutchess County Independent Reapportionment Commission to solicit funds. This is a misrepresentation.”
The letter, which was also sent to GoFundMe, demands that Lundy “cease and desist.” Blackburn’s explanation includes, “First, this group of private individuals have no right to hold themselves out as representatives of the County of Dutchess nor as the Dutchess County Independent Reapportionment Commission.”
The county attorney also said they do not represent the county in any capacity.
Blackburn also argued that assuming the reapportionment commission members are public officials, they are prohibited from soliciting donations without specific authority to do so.
Her letter suggests that the donations be returned to the donors.
Last week, Lundy updated the page with a message responding to the letter from the county. “We want you to know the county is attempting to block our access to the funds that you donated.” Lundy’s response includes the statement that “The County is asserting that we have misled donors. We have clearly stated that we are seeking support for legal fees to oppose the disbanding and get our day in court. Instead of partisan sources, we sought the support of the citizens of Dutchess County.”
The page organizer did include a statement attempting to overcome the “misrepresentation” accusation, saying “Let there be no misunderstanding, your donations are NOT supporting the County, the administration, the legislature or any of their budgets, but rather your fellow citizens who are fighting a continued illegal abuse of power over redistricting.”
Lundy did not respond to a request seeking comment.