Updated 7:39 AM; Posted 6:37 AM
By Rudy Miller
A state police booster group forced the shutdown of a campaign that raised $19,000 for a Pennsylvania state police trooper shot in the line of duty, according to court documents.
The president of the PSP Strong Association said allowing the rogue fundraiser to continue would put her $1 million fundraising organization in jeopardy. It sued the independent campaign last week and is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.Nolan Kemmerer made thousands of these #PSPStrong signs to raise money for Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Seth Kelly.
Nolan Kemmerer said he raised $19,000 through the sale of lawn signs and could have raised thousands more for Cpl. Seth Kelly. The volunteer firefighter from the Slate Belt said the PSP Strong Association objected to his use of the hashtag #PSPStrong on his signs.
PSP Strong President Danielle Petros said she had no choice but to shut down Kemmerer’s campaign because the use of her organization’s name made PSP Strong both fiscally and legally responsible for Kemmerer’s independent campaign.
Both Kemmerer and PSP Strong have raised money to benefit Cpl. Seth Kelly, who was shot during a traffic stop on Route 33 in Plainfield Township on Nov. 7, 2017.
Kemmerer owns Rapid Wraps ‘N Signs of Plainfield Township. He sold thousands of the lawn signs for charity, according to his attorney, Andrew Bench.
“He’s a volunteer firefighter. He knows a lot of police up there. It was a real personal thing for him,” Bench said. Kemmerer stopped when he received a cease and desist letter Dec. 6.
He refuses to sign a settlement agreement prohibiting him from ever using the PSP Strong name in any future campaign, so the organization sued him Feb. 7 in Luzerne County, where PSP Strong is based.
Bench said Kemmerer has no plans to resurrect the campaign. But he doesn’t believe PSP Strong has exclusive rights to the PSP Strong name or hashtag, so he refuses to sign the agreement.
According to government records filed in connection with the lawsuit, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends rejecting the PSP Strong trademark because PSP Strong’s name closely resembles other trademarks with PSP in them, such as Sony’s PlayStation Portable.
“I didn’t know anyone could actually own a hashtag or control the use of one,” said Ken Field, a friend and client of Kemmerer’s.
Even if PSP Strong loses its appeal and loses the federal trademark, the organization is registered as PSP Strong with the Internal Revenue Service and the state department of charitable organizations, Petros said.
The grass roots organization set up in 2014 after the murder of Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounding of trooper Alex Douglass has gone on to raise $1 million for various state troopers and their families.
The organization has invested time, funds and energy building itself up as PSP Strong, Petros said. The organization’s lawyer has advised PSP Strong to insist on the settlement agreement with Kemmerer or it risks losing everything.
“We put a lot of money into it. We put a lot of work into it. This is our organization. This is a big deal. We don’t want that going down the tubes,” Petros said.
PSP Strong started out selling t-shirts but has increased its offerings to include wristbands, hats, hoodies, Christmas ornaments, tumblers and polo shirts, all bearing the PSP Strong name.
The lawsuit says PSP Strong donates all its net proceeds to charity. There’s no way it can guarantee that Kemmerer’s net proceeds go to charity as well, the lawsuit says.
Kemmerer said almost everything he raised has gone to Kelly and his family. He donated the first thousand signs and recouped the cost to make the additional signs, but donated the rest of the proceeds to charity. He kept nothing to cover the cost to run the campaign.
PSP Strong, on the other hand, has significant overhead costs, according to Kemmerer. He points to an online charity database maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of State.
For the fiscal year of July 2015 through June 2016, the organization took in $114,361 but spent $36,883 on program services, $53,101 on fundraising expenses and $6,120 on management expenses, the site says.
Kemmerer said proceeds from the charity won’t cover his legal bills. Bench said he took the case at a deep discount. It’s not clear how PSP Strong is covering its legal bills.
Petros said PSP Strong has raised at least $11,000 for Kelly, although that figure dates back a few weeks. She regrets PSP Strong couldn’t work together with Kemmerer.
“I don’t want to sue people. I don’t want to do that,” Petros said.
She urged Kemmerer to sign the agreement, use a different hashtag and move on.
“He’s a very nice guy. I am not knocking him at all. But he’s raising money under our name. That puts us in jeopardy. He is not getting that,” Petros said.