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Not-for-profit registers name associated with anti-eruv advertisement

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Jessica DiNapoli   Jun 17, 2008 4:04 PM

One day after a group that opposes the creation of a symbolic religious boundary in Westhampton Beach took out a political ad in The Press discouraging voters from supporting two challengers in Friday’s village election because of their position on the issue, a corporation registered the name of the organization with the New York State Department of State.

However, the newly registered not-for-profit—called the Westhampton Beach Alliance for the Separation of Church and State—was not the same group that took out the ad, which ran in the June 12 Western Edition of The Press. In fact, the lawyer representing the new not-for-profit sent a e-mail to The Press this week stating that “no further ads should be published without our client’s express written permission.”

Richard J. Brum of Tenzer and Lunin LLP in Manhattan on Tuesday declined to release the names of his clients. He would only say that they contacted him recently about registering the not-for-profit’s name with the Department of State.

Elf Phillips-Rentmeester of Westhampton Beach and Craig Middleton of Quogue—the co-chairs of the unregistered alliance, according to last week’s advertisement—could not be reached for comment as to why they never registered their organization before taking out the ad. Though they are not required to register with the state, Ms. Phillips-Rentmeester and Mr. Middleton were required to file their organization with Village Clerk Kathy McGinnis, who also serves as the village’s election commissioner.

A man answering the phone at Ms. Phillips-Rentmeester’s home on Tuesday would only say that the alliance mailed a flier over the weekend and had not registered with the state as a political action committee. A call placed to Mr. Middleton was not returned.

The other group, which supports the proposed religious boundary, registered with the state last Friday, a day after a full-page ad paid for by the Westhampton Beach Alliance for the Separation of Church and State was published. The ad asks readers “Do you want Westhampton Beach to be proclaimed an Orthodox Jewish Community?” and states that mayoral candidate Tim Laube and trustee challenger John Roland both support the proposed religious boundary, called an eruv.

Mr. Laube contacted Ms. McGinnis after the ad ran to inquire if the Westhampton Beach Alliance for the Separation of Church and State had registered with her, as it is required to do. Ms. McGinnis said that Village Attorney Bo Bishop determined that the group that took out the ad is a political action committee, requiring that it fill out a financial disclosure statement with her. The form will show who has donated to the committee.

Stanley Zalen, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections, explained that when a village conducts its own elections, as Westhampton Beach does, all financial disclosures forms must be filed with the village clerk.

As of Tuesday, Ms. McGinnis said the group that took out the ad has not yet filed the necessary forms. If the group does not comply with the law, Ms. McGinnis said she would refer the matter to the State Board of Elections.

In addition to running the advertisement, the alliance that is not registered with the state mailed out a flier last weekend that requests that Westhampton Beach Village hold a public referendum on the proposed eruv. Mayor Conrad Teller in recent weeks has stated that he is considering that option.

Both Mr. Laube and Mr. Roland have stated that they support the establishment of the symbolic boundary, which would require the addition of between 30 and 40 black PVC pipes to preexisting utility poles in the village demarcating where the invisible boundary changes direction. The Hampton Synagogue, which is trying to create the zone, explained that it is needed to allow Orthodox Jews to push and carry objects, such as baby strollers, to temple on the Sabbath.

Mr. Brum said this week that flier mailed out this weekend by the non-registered alliance violates the rights of his clients. He said he will be mailing a cease-and-desist letter to the non-registered organization asking that it stop using the registered name.

Mr. Brum did concede that there is nothing he can do about the ad in The Press because it was taken out a day before his group registered with the Department of State. He also stressed that the unregistered group has taken a stance that is “completely at odds with our view.

“Fundamentally, we have no objection with the eruv,” Mr. Brum said. “We think it’s required with the New York State Constitution. The group formed essentially to bring the true story about the eruv out to the public.”

Mr. Brum added that he has no idea why the non-registered organization has the same name as the registered alliance. He went on to say that the group he represents “does not lobby, does not take political petitions.”

“Our mission is to try to propagate proof about the constitutional requirements about the eruv,” Mr. Brum said.

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