A Morris County GOP fundraiser at Trump National that paid $30,000 for Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld to speak has emerged as a major issue in the upcoming race for county chairman.
One of the candidates is finance chairman Ron DeFilippis, who organized the fundraiser last February. He pushed back against claims that the event lost money, saying that some of the revenues came in last year and were not reflected in campaign finance reports that showed $58,335 raised during the first quarter of the year. He pointed to several $3,500 sponsorships of the Gutfeld event by Rep. Leonard Lance and other donors that came in during 2017.
The party paid Trump National nearly $25,000 for the event and repaid a $10,000 loan made to the party by State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville). DeFilippis insists the Trump-Gutfeld event made money.
But DeFilippis’ opponent, Rob Zwigard, said the proof of the party’s fundraising failures are in the bank balance.
“I don’t care about semantics,” said Zwigard, noting that the county Republican organization had $9,011 cash-on-hand as of December 31 and filed with just $13,956 in their warchest as of March 31 – and a $10,000 debt. “Based on those numbers, I’m very concerned.”
DeFilippis says the party had practically no money when he took over as finance chairman last August. He said he came up with a plan to raise $35,000 to fund the 2017 campaign. He pointed to a $20,00 profit at a Yankee Stadium fundraiser where businessman Craig Heard covered the costs of the luxury box and bus transportation. The only major expense, DeFilippis said, was a $7,000 appearance fee paid to ex-Yankees David Wells and Mickey Rivers.
Additionally, the party took in $7,000 at a reception at the home of Republican activist Lisa LoBiondo that featured TV/radio personality Bill Spadea, who did not charge the Republicans for his appearance. LoBiondo covered the cost of the food, DeFilippis said.
Some insiders say that Morris Republicans have become over-confident after going 45 years without losing a countywide election. Now some Republicans are worried that changing demographics and a potential Democratic wave will make the county politically competitive in 2018 – and that the GOP isn’t ready for the challenge.
“We’re used to wasting money fighting each other in primaries,” Zwigard said. “In the general, we just put our names on the ballot.”
Zwigard pointed to the loss of 23 seats in local races– Democrats ousted a Republican mayor in Parsippany, the largest town in the county, last year – and the near upset of a six-term state senator who won with just 52%.
This year, Democrats are strong contenders to flip the two Morris County congressional seats and could win a race for county clerk for the first time since before the Civil War after a Superior Court Judge ruled last week that Republican incumbent Ann Grossi distributed an “illegal memo” and was running county elections without understanding state election laws.
“Now we’ve got to worry about general elections. They’re not going away,” Zwigard told the New Jersey Globe.
He said the county organization needs to stop paying huge appearance fees to celebrities, believing that the party’s donor base would have come anyway, without incurring fees for big names like Gutfeld and Rivers.
DeFilippis disagrees, saying that Morris Republicans did just fine last year with Heather Darling winning 57% in her race for freeholder and gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno carrying the county by a 53%-45% margin.
What really bothers DeFilippis is the tone of Morris County Republican politics.
“There are a handful of people who will attack for any reason,” DeFilippis told the New Jersey Globe. “The dialogue in the Republican party in this county is like junior high school.”
He criticized Zwigard for having no sense of the truth and says he has been pushed into running a negative campaign by Zwigard.
“He lies through his teeth constantly,” DeFilippis said. “We can go as low as the other candidate, except we have the facts.”
DeFilippis says that a political action committee run by Zwigard and former Republican County Chairman John Sette has inflated how much money they have pumped into local campaigns. DeFilippis insists that the PAC has contributed substantially less than they $100,000 he says Zwigard talks about.
But according to a report filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the Morris County Republican Victory PAC reported raising $190,700 in 2017. The PAC has $27,820 cash-on-hand, significantly more than the Morris County Republican Committee.
DeFilippis also says that Republicans need to do a better job unifying after bitter primary fights.
“Losers need to man up and endorse the winners,” DeFilippis said.