It was a feel-good story last year when the Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. resumed its production of bells in East Hampton, months after a lightning strike sparked a blaze that destroyed the company’s 180-year-old factory there.
But this week the company that helped shaped the identity of Belltown, as East Hampton is sometimes called, is at the center of a heated political contest taking place hundreds of miles away in Kentucky.
The company’s owner, Matthew Bevin, announced in Kentucky earlier this week that he will run for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats in 2014, setting himself up for a contentious primary race against Republican Mitch McConnell, who is currently the Senate’s Minority Leader.
Even before Bevin officially jumped into the race, McConnell’s camp had rolled out video and internet advertisements attacking Bevin for taxes his bell company had owed to the town of East Hampton in recent years.
A 33-second television commercial put out this week by McConnell’s campaign brands Bevin as “Bailout Bevin,” because the bell company had received $200,000 from the state of Connecticut to rebuild after the fire. The ad calls calls that state aid a “taxpayer bailout.”
It also attacks Bevin for the company’s failure to pay local taxes and cites a 2011 article from the Middletown Press that identified Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. as the biggest tax deliquent in East Hampton.
“Bailout Bevin: not a Kentucky conservative,” the ad finishes.
The Internet ads that were running Thursday dubbed Bevin as an “East Coast con man” because of the company’s tax problems.
But Bevin appears to have paid off the outstanding amounts before jumping into the Senate race. Town records available online show that the company doesn’t have any outstanding taxes going back to 2010. And Collector of Revenue Nancy Hasselman confirmed that the company doesn’t owe the town any money from previous years.
Bevin’s campaign did not return multiple messages left by The Courant on Thursday seeking his comment on the McConnell campaign’s ad or the bell company’s tax issues.
But his campaign website says, “Matt opposes the special-interest bailouts that put big business and corporate lobbyists ahead of Kentucky taxpayers.”
The accusations from the McConnell camp could be problematic for Bevin, who has never held elected office and builds his case as a candidate from his biography. On his website and in his own video ads, he touted his background as a former soldier and a small business owner who came from humble beginnings. Even though he owns the Connecticut bell factory, Bevin lives in Louisville, Ky.
Bevin’s website says he became president of the bell company when it was “besieged by high taxes and foreign competition.” It says he paid off the company’s taxes and “modernized the company’s business model” to save it from potential bankruptcy.
Bevin has styled himself as a fiscally conservative candidate and on Thursday several Tea Party groups in Kentucky announced their support for his candidacy.
When the Bevin Bell factory announced that it was resuming production late last year, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he would try to help the company get federal money to rebuild its factory.
In a statement Thursday, Blumenthal said: “After the devastating fire, I joined the community as the company pledged to rebuild the business that has made East Hampton and Connecticut proud for more than 180 years. Just as I would with any Connecticut business in the same challenging circumstances, I partnered with State and local officials in seeking to provide Bevin the resources they needed to recover and get back to work.”
Blumenthal did not comment about the accusations about the bell company’s taxes.
Text By Wes Duplantier, Hartford Courant; Video By Jeevan Vittal, Fox CT