Posted: Sept. 28, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Terry Strine, who used to be the Republican state chair, was going to host a campaign event for Andy Staton, a Democrat running for the state Senate.

It turned out to be so wrong in so many ways. It was canceled the day before people were supposed to show up.

Staton blamed a scheduling conflict. His e-mail calling off this fund-raiser for his campaign came so hurriedly, not even spell-check could catch up with it. "Unfortunately due to unforseen [spell-check alert!] circumstances I must be in the district tomorrow," he wrote.

That was Staton's story, and he was sticking to it. "We had a couple of meetings that came up at the last minute," he said Thursday during an interview.

Whatever the official reason, the sudden demise of the event looked suspiciously like political euthanasia. Not only was it suffering from some political complications, but more ominously, potentially some from the IRS.

The reception was supposed to take place Wednesday evening at the home of Terry Strine and his wife Sandy in Chateau Country to benefit Staton's campaign in a new Sussex County senatorial district, created by redistricting for the fast-growing area taking in Milton, Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach.

It was a fund-raiser with a select invitation list. These days the Strines are the co-chairs of Leadership Delaware Inc., a non-profit offering leadership training to up-and-coming Delawareans in politics, non-profits and business. Staton is one of the past participants, called "LDI fellows," and the event was limited to others who have also been involved with the program.

The grumblings were heard just about as soon as the invitations went out.

Here was Strine, the Republicans' top party official from 2003 to 2008, helping out Staton, a Democrat, running for a state Senate seat that the Republicans have high hopes of winning as a lonely bright spot in what is expected to be a strong Democratic year here.

The Republican senatorial candidate is Ernie Lopez, who ironically enough got his start in politics when he was living upstate and Strine helped to recruit him to run for New Castle County Council president in 2004.

"I got a call last week about it. I had a feeling it would reflect badly on either Andy or Terry. I just had a feeling that it wasn't going to pan out," Lopez said.

The politics was bad enough, but not as bad as what might have happened with the Internal Revenue Service.

Leadership Delaware is a type of non-profit, called a "501(c)(3)" after a section of the federal tax code. As the IRS Web site warns, "It may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates."

If a non-profit like this one engages in politics, it could lose the tax-exempt status that relieves it from income taxes and potentially cost it thousands of dollars, according to Chuck Durante, a Wilmington lawyer whose practice includes non-profits.

Terry Strine could not distance Leadership Delaware far enough from Staton's campaign. "It was his event. Leadership Delaware is totally non-profit, totally non-partisan. [The invitation] was poorly stated. It was called off, and that was probably all for the good," Strine said.

A Republican ex-chair and a Democratic candidate are an odd couple, but a non-profit and a political campaign? That would be a fatal attraction.