Two Republican lawmakers were sounding the alarm again Thursday over funding the state Bond Commission is set to approve for an organization with ties to the Communist Party.
Sen. Andrew Roraback of Goshen and Rep. Sean Williams of Watertown said they are concerned about the activities housed in the New Haven Peoples Center and don’t believe the state should be borrowing $300,000 to renovate the community center. Their argument Thursday focused on the People’s World, a newspaper with a Marxist editorial mission.
According to the paper’s mission statement the media outlet “is partisan to the working class, people of color, women, young people, seniors, LGBT community, to international solidarity; to popularize the ideas of Marxism and Bill of Rights socialism.”
“I have every confidence that the people who run this organization are good and decent people,” Williams said at a Capitol press conference. “They have every right to have whatever political beliefs they have, just as we all do as Americans…but that does not entitle them to be the recipients of tax dollars to prop up those political activities.”
“It is the right of the people publishing this newspaper to publish this newspaper and to hold their views, but in my view it’s not appropriate for the taxpayers of Connecticut to be providing a $300,000 grant to an organization which is clearly political in nature,” Roraback said.
He said he would have the same objections is the newspaper had a Republican or free market slant to its news.
“We should not be in the business of funneling bond dollars to organizations which promote partisanship,” he said especially at a time when state resources are scarce.
The New Haven project was flagged as questionable by Mary Plaskonka, a former state employee who emailed members of the state Bond Commission to ask why they would be giving money to an organization which operates on a part-time basis and hasn’t filed a 990 tax form with the IRS since 1999. It was pulled from the April 27 agenda after questions were raised but it was placed back on for Monday’s meeting.
Sen. Toni Harp of New Haven, who requested the money for the center, said she doesn’t believe the state Bond Commission typically looks at who rents or is housed in a building that receives funding.
“I think if they’re opposed to it, they can be opposed to it,” Harp said. “It’s a historic building in my district that opens its doors up to young people and other groups in our community.”
Al Marder, one of the founding members of the People’s Center which is operated by the Progressive Education and Research Associates, is a World War II veteran, Harp said.
“I would have Al Marder stand up to anyone,” she added. Marder is a member of the Communist Party USA.
She said the two Republican lawmakers are probably too young to remember the Cold War and the fear of communism. “They weren’t even alive during those days,” she said. “It’s just political gamesmanship and frankly I find it appalling.”
As for the newspaper argument, Harp said it has the right to freedom of speech where it rents. She said the organization doesn’t endorse political candidates.
“It’s really not some kind communist plot to take over Connecticut,” she said.
Roraback and Williams called on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to have the funding removed from the agenda.
However, Malloy’s Senior Adviser Roy Occhiogrosso said that would start the state down a dangerous path. He said examining the past or present political leanings of every organization the state gives money to raises civil liberty and First Amendment concerns.
“It’s pretty clear they’re trying to score political points but they’re using a playbook from 1955 and they’re not gaining much traction,” he said.
Occhiogrosso said every project needs to be scrutinized based on its merits and its impact on the community. He said the People’s Center is a good project in its totality.
“Good things go on in that building and the administration thinks they should continue,” he said.