By Cindy Mindell
NEW HAVEN – In an election day story picked up by far-flung newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Jerusalem Post, labels from a mailing list belonging to the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven mysteriously showed up on a letter sent out by Toni Harp’s mayoral campaign in New Haven.
The letter, signed by eight prominent members of the local Jewish community – two of whom serve on Harp’s Economic Development Policy Committee – was mailed two days before the election and urged “friends and neighbors” to consider a vote for Harp.
Federation CEO Sydney Perry began receiving calls from several recipients of the letter, who recognized that the mailing labels had the same format as those of Federation.
“From our perspective, the one thing I care about is that this alerted us to our policy that we never endorse candidates on any level,” says Perry, who stresses that she does not even display political lawn signs on her private property. “We don’t sell our lists, and a lot of people ask for them – usually our own institutions and synagogues, and sometimes we offer to do a mailing for a cost.” In addition, if a group wants to share a message with Federation constituents, Federation will consider distributing it to its list if it is deemed beneficial to members or donors.
Perry and senior Federation staff reported the incident to their board and indicated the steps they will take to ensure better security of the organization’s lists. They have instituted a new logging system to track who produces or accesses a list, and for what purpose. A thorough internal examination of Federation procedures is underway.
Perry says that senior Federation staff members have been in close contact with the Harp campaign to try to resolve the situation, and are reviewing policy and practices with Federation’s mailing houses.
“No one from the Harp campaign asked anyone for our lists and that no board member ever requested lists,” Perry says. “I am pretty sure, given the deep concern that was expressed by individuals and the Federation, that this would never happen a second time.”
As serious as this infraction is, Perry says that she does not expect that it will affect the Federations’ non-profit tax status but cannot say for certain. “We have an excellent reputation for maintaining high standards in all areas of our non-profit status,” she says. “We will be only more vigilant in the future.”
Mark Sklarz, the only signatory who is a member of Harp’s Economic Development Policy Committee and of the Federation board, says that he doesn’t know how the list got into the hands of the Harp campaign.
Two messages left for Toni Harp’s communications director, Patrick Scully, were not answered.