Norfolk County Mayor Amy Martin addresses the Municipal Election Compliance Audit Committee in response to a complaint about her election financials lodged by former mayor Kristal Chopp, seated at right. J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A political feud resurfaced in Norfolk County on Wednesday when the former mayor and current mayor sparred over allegations of election misconduct.

Since finishing second by more than 3,000 votes in her bid for a second term last fall, Kristal Chopp has largely flown under the radar. But that changed on Wednesday when the former mayor made her return to council chambers in Simcoe to accuse current Mayor Amy Martin — Chopp’s former political ally turned bitter rival — of breaking campaign finance rules. 

In a presentation before the municipal election compliance audit committee, Chopp alleged Martin profited from the sale of T-shirts that referenced a Facebook account known for criticizing Chopp.

She also said Martin should have declared the fact that her brother, Tim Rodger, purchased the website domain and three others with similar addresses in what Chopp described as “an unethical and dirty political play” to prevent her from using the websites in her campaign.

Voters who visited were redirected to websites for the Martin campaign, the San Diego Zoo and others.

This, Chopp alleged, is an example of “cybersquatting,” which she described as “the act, in bad faith, of registering a domain name without being able to justify a right or a legitimate interest on this domain name or to purposely misdirect traffic.”

Chopp said Rodger told her in a since-deleted Facebook post that “a very wealthy individual” paid him $1,000 to lease the domain.

That should have been declared as an in-kind campaign contribution, Chopp alleged.

“Her brother … spent money out of his own pocket — or his company’s, as it would appear — to buy multiple domain names,” she told committee members.

“And there was no accounting for it.”

Chopp said it was “unlikely that Martin had no knowledge of these activities.” 

But Rodger — who is Martin’s half-brother, 18 years the mayor’s senior — told reporters he never received any money for the domain, and invented the story of the wealthy buyer to rile Chopp up in the waning days of the campaign.

“And it worked,” Rodger said.

“I bought the domain and I forwarded it to the Martin campaign,” Rodger told The Spectator, adding no campaign money was used and Martin was unaware he owned the domain.

“She was shocked when she found out,” he said.

Separately, Rodger made a $1,001.87 cash donation to the campaign, which Chopp described as an “unusual” amount.

The maximum allowable individual donation to a municipal election campaign is $1,200, and Chopp alleged Rodger spent the remaining $198.13 on registering the domain names.

But Rodger said he made his donation an odd amount so it would stand out on the donor list.

Speaking before the committee, Martin denied Chopp’s “accusatory and false” allegations against her.

“For the record, I did not participate in the purchase of domain names or the linking of any website. Nor did I accept money or a contribution from Mr. Rodger, or anyone else, as it relates to the webpage,” Martin said.

“I did not do it.”

Martin said she did not call her brother to discuss the website after she learned it was redirecting to her campaign home page.

“I know that may seem strange, but that’s not the type of relationship we have,” Martin said.

Chopp says that story strains credulity.

“Any suggestion that Martin herself was unaware of what shenanigans her brother was up to for months are implausible and unconvincing,” Chopp wrote in her submission to the committee.

Martin said she ran a clean campaign and had “no involvement” with T-shirts referencing the anti-Chopp Facebook page, saying she only sold T-shirts with her campaign logo.

Martin noted she had her campaign expenses audited and verified by an outside accounting firm, while Chopp did not file her campaign financial statements with the county clerk, which disqualifies her from running in the next election.

“To assume that I was the only individual who did not want to see former mayor Chopp back in office is absurd,” Martin said.

“I could not want to distance myself more from the brand that is Kristal Chopp. The allegations serve, in my opinion, only to shift the focus from the good work of this council and staff, as well as to cause reputational damage to myself.”

Chopp said some might dismiss her public airing of grievances as “sour grapes,” but she is concerned about the use of what she described as “cheap games and manipulative tactics” in future elections.

The committee deliberated behind closed doors for about 45 minutes before returning to the council chamber and voting to dismiss Chopp’s request for a compliance audit, without providing an explanation for its decision.

“I guess a simple ‘I don’t know’ is a defence,” Chopp said after the decision, while not ruling out taking further action to address what she considers election interference.

“Oh, I’m just getting started,” she said.

For her part, Martin was glad to put the hearing behind her.

“This committee did the job it’s supposed to do, and I’m ready to get back to work,” she said.

By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 13, 2023 at 09:36

This item reprinted with permission from   The Spectator   Hamilton, Ontario
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