Nonprofit group says political contribution was legal

2011-10-25T17:15:00Z 2011-10-26T10:40:04Z Nonprofit group says political contribution was legalBy Bob Kasarda, (219) 548-4345

PORTAGE | The Portage Economic Development Corp., which is a nonprofit group that receives nearly half its annual funding in the form of tax dollars from the city, contributed $500 to the re-election bid of board member and Democratic Mayor Olga Velazquez.

Executive Director Bert Cook said his organization's decision to take part in Velazquez's Sept. 19 golf outing was for the purpose of networking among the city's business and community leaders.

"We weren't looking at it as a campaign contribution," he said.

Even if that were the case, Cook said his accountants assured him Tuesday the nonprofit has the legal right to spend up to 20 percent of its annual total expenditures on lobbying. The contribution for the golf foursome was taken from the marketing portion of the budget, which is made up of private contributions and other nontax dollars.

Cook said he intends to re-evaluate the decision to take part in the campaign fundraiser and probably will steer clear of this type of event in the future.

The Portage Township School Corp. also is re-evaluating a decision by its high school athletic department to take part in the same golf outing for a contribution of $500.

Republican James Snyder, who is attempting to unseat Velazquez, said that as mayor, he would not take money from PEDCO considering the funding is not contributed for political reasons.

"It's a mayor's golf outing," he said. "It's not a charitable ball."

Velazquez said PEDCO's participation in the golf outing was a legitimate expense and any questions being raised are just a diversion from the real issues in the mayoral race.

"Let's get back to the issues of this campaign," she said.

Velazquez serves on PEDCO's board of directors along with City Planner Joe Csikos and Scott McClure, of the city's law firm of Rhame & Elwood.

Cook said none of these individuals is on the board's executive committee, which is the decision-making arm that gives recommendations to the group.

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