STATE PAY-TO-PLAY IN THE NEWS
Close the loopholes / Fighting Pay-to-Play in NJ, Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial, 8/12/07
Another setback for ethics reform, Trenton Times Editorial, 1/31/07
Spineless state Dems shirked pay-to-play ban, Home News Tribune Editorial, 1/25/07
Legislature must embrace strict ethical standards, Asbury Park Press, 9/24/06
PAY-TO-PLAY RULES: Good news, bad news, Press of Atlantic City, 6/19/06
Fair & open - and ineffective, Trenton Times Editorial 2/7/06
Stronger ethics laws OK'd for towns, Asbury Park Press, 1/6/06
Towns cleared to toughen pay-to-play laws. State ban OK'd Sunday; now local rules can go further, Asbury Park Press, 1/6/06
Tribute to citizen action, Asbury Park Press Editorial, 12/13/05
Slow road to reform, Bergen Record Editorial, 12/12/05
Senate OKs reform bill. Unanimous vote protects local pay-to-play limits, Home News Tribune, 12/11/05
Local pay-to-play bans get protection, Asbury Park Press, 12/9/05
Towns can crack down harder on pay-to-play, Bergen Record, 12/9/05
All Talk - Bergen Record Editorial, 11/23/05
Answer is clear: Let locals fight pay-to-play, Courier News Editorial, 11/23/05
Don't Stall Curbs on Pay-to-Play, Asbury Park Press Editorial, 11/23/05
Local pay-to-play laws at risk, reformer warns, Asbury Park Press, 11/22/05
Raising the pay-to-play ante, Trenton Times, 11/22/05
Pay-to-Play laws in jeopardy, Express Times, 11/22/05
Demanding clean government, Trenton Times Editorial, 11/17/05
Exposing Pay-to-Play Donors, Asbury Park Press Editorial, 11/17/05
Local Pay to Play laws show the way to Enabling Legislation, Home News Tribune, 10/13/05
Chipping away at pay-to-play, Home News Tribune, 3/24/05
Codey Signs Bill to Put an End to 'Pay to Play' on State Bids, The New York Times, 3/23/05
New Jersey has made progress in limiting the corrupting influence of pay-to-play politics. But Gov. Corzine could, and should, do more to stop contractors' cash from finding its way into the political campaigns.
In 2004, Gov. Jim McGreevey issued an executive order restricting political donations by state, county and local government contractors. The Legislature later turned his order into law.
Since then, several major state contractors have cut back on campaign donations, or stopped giving completely. Leading Democrats have complained that the limitations are making it too difficult to raise campaign funds. Poor babies. Their whining indicates the law is working. That's good news for taxpayers, because too much of their money has been wasted on costly no-bid contracts awarded to firms that are generous campaign donors.
The pay-to-play law still has significant loopholes, though, gaps that the Legislature has been unwilling to plug. An effort by Senate Republicans failed earlier this year when only one Democrat voted with them in favor of tighter restrictions. Corzine should sign executive orders to close these loopholes.
One of those omissions has allowed people who consult on redevelopment projects to make campaign donations while they are negotiating for the job or performing the work. A ban on this practice could impact projects such as the huge Cherokee Northeast redevelopments planned for Camden and Pennsauken. Key firms involved in these projects have donated millions, directly or indirectly, to government officials with oversight responsibility.
And in North Jersey, a North Carolina-based developer has given large campaign donations to local officials while securing tax grants and other state support for a project to build a luxury golf community atop old dumps in the Meadowlands. While many of the contractors in these projects deny political motives, it's the kind of staggering coincidence that undermines public confidence in how taxpayers' money is spent and zoning decisions are made.
Political action committees run by legislative leaders are exempt from pay-to-play restrictions; they shouldn't be. Donations from state contractors to leadership PACs nearly doubled after the law went into effect. The nonpartisan Citizens' Campaign, a grassroots advocacy group, argues that these PACs have become an important back channel of pay-to-play influence.
Another loophole involves partners in firms who hold less than a 10 percent interest. The campaign finance law applies only to principals who control more than 10 percent equity in their firm. This little finagle enabled partners of one major law firm with state contracts to donate more than $116,000 to political campaigns.
With a stroke of his pen, Corzine should live up to his earlier promises and close these significant gaps that violate the spirit of pay-to-play reform in New Jersey.
Israel's Abba Eban used to say of his Palestinian counterparts that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. One could venture the same thought about the Democrats who run the New Jersey Legislature.
Last Monday, the Senate's Democratic majority had another chance to show that it was serious about ethics reform and cost-effective government. It came when Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Hamilton, moved to spring his bill to ban "pay-to-play" and "wheeling" from a committee lockbox and bring it to the floor for a vote.
Inverso and his 17 Republican colleagues voted yes. Only one Democrat, Sen. Ellen Karcher, D-Marlboro, joined them. The other Democrats abstained. Inverso's motion needed a majority of 21 votes to pass. With only 19, it failed.
Pay-to-play is the time-honored New Jersey custom by which government contracts go to political contributors. Wheeling means moving campaign money from one county to another to avoid contribution limits. Local party bosses love the system, and their sentiments are reflected in the Legislature.
Aside from its scumminess, however, it costs New Jersey big bucks. The Citizens' Campaign says that more than a billion dollars a year is squandered on no-bid contracts and other favors bestowed by officeholders on their benefactors.
You'd think a state government that can't reduce waste in other ways would jump at this easy route to savings. Obviously, you'd be wrong.
Gov. Jon Corzine talks a good reform. He called for laws to curb pay-to-play and wheeling in his State of the State speech. Yet Corzine wasn't heard from in the run-up to last Monday's Senate showdown. If he uttered a word on behalf of the bottled-up Inverso bill to the Senate's Democratic leaders, no one else heard about it.
The senators who abstained in last week's vote included several who normally are on the good-government side, such as Shirley Turner, D-Lawrence; Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and Joe Vitale, D-Woodbridge. Clearly, party discipline was tight on this one.
As for Ellen Karcher, whose credentials as a reformer are authentic, her fellow Democrats probably didn't object to her breaking ranks to vote with the Republicans. They knew it wouldn't make a difference in the result, and that Karcher needed to protect those credentials in anticipation of a tough re-election fight against another reform advocate, Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank.
Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny, D-Hoboken, made a lame attempt to explain his party's rejection of the Inverso bill. He reminded reporters that the Legislature last year gave municipalities the power to ban political contributions by persons doing business with their governments. "We think that should have some time to take hold," he said.
How ironic. The towns had that power all along, until the Legislature stripped them of it in 2003. It took a parliamentary maneuver by Inverso -- similar to the one he tried last week, but successful -- to force a Senate vote on a bill to restore the local option on pay-to-play. Once the bill was smoked out, the Democratic side suddenly was full of reformers, and it passed easily.
Wielding this power, citizens at the grassroots are doing their best to clean up their municipalities with the help of state good-government organizations. Seventy-five towns have adopted anti-pay-to-play ordinances; 45 of these are based on a tough model law drafted by the Citizens' Campaign. Another 14 towns have extended their pay-to-play bans to cover redevelopment contracts. Many local governments have enacted their laws the hard way, through petition drives and referendums -- powerful evidence that the public fully understands pay-to-play and wants it wiped out.
But passing these ordinances in 566 towns, one at a time, is ridiculous. Why should it take years and extravagant amounts of citizen effort to get rid of a bad and costly system that the Legislature could eliminate in one afternoon?
The Republicans say their efforts are far from finished. Inverso plans to try again to get his bill out of Senate committee. And in the Assembly, Bill Baroni, R-Hamilton, sponsor of an identical measure, has promised to attempt a similar maneuver to bring the issue to a floor vote.
"We're not going to give up," Baroni said. "There are reformers on both sides of the aisle in both houses. Banning pay-to-play isn't a partisan issue. It's going to help the whole state. I've been working with Democrats to try to get support. Now is the moment. We've got to keep pushing until it happens.
"In this environment, where property-tax reform seems to have essentially collapsed, I would not want to be a candidate for public office who goes before the voters and says, 'I helped stop pay-to-play reform.'"
Democrats in the state Senate - save for one - ought to hang their heads in shame.
When presented with the chance on Monday to pass model pay-to-play legislation that would ban the practice at all levels of New Jersey government and severely restrict the insidious practice known as "wheeling," a tactic used to skirt pay-to-play laws, only Monmouth County's Ellen Karcher was courageous enough to vote for the bill. Twenty other Democrats abstained, while all 18 Republicans said yes, leaving the measure two votes shy of passage. Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he supports the statewide ban.
New Jersey residents should be appalled by the Democrats' willful disregard of their constituents' needs. Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny Jr., D-Hudson, had the temerity to argue that his party has already dealt with pay-to-play by imposing statewide restrictions, so there was no need to do more.
Kenny omitted the fact that county and municipal governments are under no such restrictions, unless they have passed rules of their own. But only a few dozen communities have done so thus far. With more than 500 municipalities and 21 county governments throughout the state, at this rate comprehensive reform will never get done, leaving a large part of the state's population unprotected against the ravages of play-to-play.
What are those dangers? Pay-to-play is the corrosive practice of rewarding campaign contributors with lucrative no-bid government contracts. Pay-to-play inflates the cost of government because contractors purposely build the expense of campaign contributions into the cost of their work. The lack of competition for no-bid contracts also drives costs higher as work is doled out not to those who can do the job best but to those who can give the most.
It is a cozy and cynical way of doing business.
Politicians feed their re-election tills; lawyers, engineers and architects lift their bottom lines; taxpayers, the odd party out, pay the tab. This furthered by the practice of "wheeling" political contributions among political committees enabling politicians to circumvent contribution limits and a ban on transferring money from federal to state accounts.
Middlesex County residents have a particular bone to pick with two of their state Senate representatives - Democrats Joseph Vitale and Barbara Buono - each of whom sat out the vote. Had the pair decided to cast their lot in favor of cleaner, more efficient and honest government, the measure would be one step closer to the governor's desk and transformation into law.
On the flip side, Peter Inverso, R-Middlesex-Mercer, was the citizens' best friend on this day. Inverso was responsible for bringing the measure to a vote by using an obscure parliamentary procedure that bypassed the committee process and forced a vote on the Senate floor. Inverso, who is also the bill's sponsor, has pledged to "keep trying." And the voters should keep watching, especially around these parts.
When top-to-bottom pay-to-play reform is voted on again, will Vitale and Buono stand up for better government or against it? Or will they continue to side with the special interests over the citizens who elected them?
They who choose the former do so at their constituents' peril.
The screaming headlines of political corruption, using public office for private gain and campaign mudslinging that plays the ethics card for political gain make plain yet again that real ethics reform must remain the cornerstone of any hope for restoring the public trust.
There is a concrete, attainable agenda that the Legislature can and must pursue, now, if it is to demonstrate that it means business when it comes to ethics. As special ethics counsel to acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, charged with recommending ethics reforms for the executive branch of state government, we made a series of sweeping recommendations and set forth stringent prohibitions that now, commendably, bind the executive branch.
The Legislature should hold itself to the same strict standards.
Adopt a zero-tolerance policy on the acceptance of gifts. The present ethics laws prohibit legislators from accepting gifts worth more than $250 in total value from a single source, for any matter related to their official duties. Much has been written of the need to enforce the requirement that legislators return, in a timely manner, any value in excess of the $250 per source limit. While this requirement must be heeded, much of the discussion misses the most essential point: Legislators should be banned from receiving any gifts, of any value, from lobbyists, governmental affairs agents or any other interested parties.
Whether it's a bottle of inexpensive wine or Dom Perignon, lunch at a diner or orchestra seats to a Broadway show, gifts from those doing business or hoping to do business with the state are designed to curry favor. We recommended, and there is now in place, a flat ban on the acceptance of gifts for all officials and employees of the executive branch. The Legislature should hold itself to the same standard. A prohibition on any gifts given by outside parties and related in any way to the legislator's official duties establishes a clear standard that is easy to apply and sends the right message: "We can't be bought. Don't even try."
Merge the Joint Legislative Commission on Ethical Standards into the newly empowered State Ethics Commission. The legislative commission, responsible for investigating ethics complaints against legislators, has been routinely described as ineffective, unable to forcefully address allegations against its own.
New Jersey's system mirrors the federal system. In a season of scandals, congressional ethics panels remain on the sidelines. So far this year, at least seven federal lawmakers have been indicted, have pleaded guilty or are under investigation for improper conduct, such as conspiracy, securities fraud and improper campaign donations, yet no major ethics investigations have taken place in Washington.
Merging the legislative commission with the new and boldly empowered State Ethics Commission, which is charged with investigating executive branch ethics violations, will centralize and make consistent the application and strict enforcement of the state's ethics laws. Other states do this without any apparent diminution in legislative powers.
Ban dual officeholding. Holding multiple offices promotes a consolidation of influence that alters the delicate balance of power in politics. It promotes careerism and cronyism, and erodes the public's confidence in its leaders. Tom O'Neill, in his recent report put forth by the New Jersey Policy Perspective and Demos, makes the point particularly well: New Jersey's citizens deserve the assurance that elected officials are free of conflicts of interests, and that public officeholding is rooted in public service, not personal enrichment.
Ban pay-to-play at every level of government, including redevelopment. New Jersey must finish the task of pay-to-play reform, severing, as Harry Pozycki of the Citizens' Campaign has made plain, "the remaining links between corrupting political contributions and the awarding of government contracts." Critical to the task is the Legislature's willingness to close existing loopholes in the laws, and place counties, municipalities and developers within those strengthened laws.
Make the newly promulgated Uniform Ethics Code binding on the Legislature and local government. The uniform code, promulgated by the State Ethics Commission, is a significant accomplishment. With its clear rules and stringent penalties for non-compliance, it is destined to become a model for national replication, and already has garnered favorable attention from other states wrestling with the task of ethics reform. It binds the executive branch. It should bind the Legislature, and be made binding on local government.
Local government is bound by the Local Government Ethics Law, a largely toothless statute. It contains, for example, no clear ban on gifts, no explicit ban on nepotism, insufficient disclosure requirements for business interests, inadequate penalties for transgressions and no direct power to cause removal from office. While a growing number of municipalities have taken up worthy initiatives aimed at ethics reform, there needs to be consistency in the application, supervision and control of much tighter standards. The rules of the game must be made plain, and the penalties strict.
Close the door to pension padding. This is the deplorable practice of promoting state officials shortly before retirement, thus allowing the officials to receive an undeserved public pension based on a higher salary for a position they never held. Not only should such manipulation of the pension system be banned, but New Jersey should also enact new forfeiture provisions in the state's pension laws to keep public employees convicted of serious wrongdoing from being rewarded. Pensions should be earned, given to public officials and employees who truly serve the public and respect the power they have been given to do good.
The public yearns for assurances that it can rely on the integrity of its elected officials. There are reasons for great hope, but more remains to be done. Only by showing a united front against ethics violations can New Jersey make real the promise of lasting reform.
Paula A. Franzese is the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School. Daniel J. O'Hern, Little Silver, is a retired associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Good news: The state's "pay to play" restrictions have caused several major state contractors to stop contributing to gubernatorial and state party committees in an effort to get state contracts. Donations are way down.
Bad news: At least some of those contractor contributions are apparently being funneled instead into the political committees run by the state's legislative leaders - which are exempt from "pay to play" restrictions. Contractor contributions to one such fund more than doubled last year.
Worse news: Faced with the news that the pay-to-play ban is having at least some of the desired effect, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union - who is also chairman of the state Democratic Committee - promptly called for legislation that would gut it.
Cryan withdrew the proposal after Gov. Jon Corzine said he would veto such a bill. Corzine had the right response: Rather than ease the restrictions, Corzine said he wants to tighten them to include the legislative committees and to prohibit the transfer of funds from one committee to another.
The best news would be that the Legislature passes those tightened restriction and the link is more cleanly severed between campaign contributions and taxpayer-financed contracts. If Cryan's knee-jerk reaction is any measure of legislative support, though, we're not holding our breath.
ACS State & Local Solutions once was a great source of campaign cash for New Jersey politicians.
The company, which operates the state's E-ZPass toll collection system and also is a major contractor with the Department of Human Services, sank $250,000 into political war chests in 2002 through 2004 -- most of it to ruling Democrats.
All that changed in September 2004, when Gov. James E. McGreevey issued an executive order, which later became law, broadening curbs on political donations by state, county and local contractors.
ACS hasn't given a dime since. And it is not alone.
A new Star-Ledger analysis shows many major contractors have slashed their political giving or stopped altogether since the state adopted rules to end pay-to-play, the practice in which those who make big donations get big contracts.
The newspaper's review found the rules have had a wide-ranging impact:
· All donations to the Democratic State Committee, a political action committee controlled by the governor, dropped 78 percent from its recent peak in 2001 through 2005, and contractor donations to the PAC plunged 86 percent in the same period. In 2004, one-third of the money the DSC raised came from contractors; last year, it was 6 percent.
· Contractor contributions to the "big six" fundraising committees -- the two state party committees and four legislative leadership PACs -- fell from $5.4 million in 2001 to $1.8 million last year.
· Late last year Schoor DePalma, a Manalapan engineering firm that donated more than $2.8million to both parties since 1990, ceased all donations.
· G-Tech, which runs the lottery system and has been a steady donor to both parties since 1997, stopped all donations in 2004.
· Parsons Transportation Group, a poster child for pay-to-play criticism in the 1990s when it gave heavily to the Republican Party and got a $500 million state auto emissions testing contract, gave $25,000 to the Democratic State Committee in 2003 and 2004 but nothing since.
The historic reforms were meant to discourage donations to gubernatorial candidates and the ruling governor's party, because the state's chief executive awards contracts. Businesses with government contracts of more than $17,500 are forbidden to make donations larger than $300 to gubernatorial candidates and party committees.
Not everyone is happy.
Breaking from Gov. Jon Corzine, several leading Democrats say the rules are cutting too deeply into their ability to raise money, and thereby favor candidates who can finance their own campaigns.
Democratic State Committee Chairman Joe Cryan said he soon will propose legislation to make it easier for contractors to donate. And Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero is preparing a lawsuit to try to end the contractor restrictions, his law partner says.
For their part, many contractors said they stopped donating because they don't want to unintentionally break complex rules and lose state contracts. Along with the state laws enacted in 2004 and 2005, dozens of municipalities have their own limits.
"ACS has not contributed because it would restrict our ability to do business in New Jersey," said company spokesman Tom Clary.
And Anthony Cimino, a former assemblyman who works for Schoor DePalma, said his firm "wanted to ensure that we did not jeopardize our ability to pursue work."
Good-government groups had pushed for pay-to-play reform for most of this decade. With questions about government ethics swirling in 2004, political leaders made reform a priority.
That year, more than half of the $819 million in no-bid government contracts awarded by the 29 public authorities went to frequent political contributors, The Star-Ledger review found.
In 2005, the 10 largest campaign contributors among the contractors cut their donations by more than 50 percent.
Harry Pozycki, a former Common Cause chairman who pushed for reform, said many state contractors donated because they felt it kept alive their chances to land government contracts. "The government contractors don't want to make these embezzlement-sized donations," he said.
But Cryan maintains the rules have devastated party fundraising. "It's hurt us quite a lot," he said. "You know what hasn't changed is the cost of elections. They are still going up."
This month Cryan, an assemblyman from Union County, plans to introduce a bill that would allow all state contractors to give.
He said his bill would permit donations not just by contractors but by other groups that long have been banned from giving, including state-regulated industries such as banks and insurance companies. A ban would remain for Atlantic City's casinos.
The bill would set an annual limit on donations -- Cryan pegs it at about $40,000 -- and demand quick, detailed disclosure of the donations on the Internet and stiff fines for violating the rules.
Cryan said the restrictions are "chasing good people from the process. It's as if we've made participating in the process something wrong, something un-American."
Meanwhile, Ferriero, the Bergen County Democratic chairman, is preparing a lawsuit to try to end the contractor restrictions, according to his law partner, Donald Scarinci.
Because some contractors have stopped giving altogether, Scarinci said local fundraising is also down. "Getting money for the state Democratic committee is just impossible," he said.
Scarinci, a major state Democratic fundraiser, said restrictions on private donors give a bigger advantage to candidates like Corzine and his 2005 opponent for governor, Republican Doug Forrester, who are wealthy enough to bankroll their own campaigns.
"Why do we call that reform when only a rich guy could run for governor? I think reform is full disclosure, 48-hour disclosure with a stiff penalty for noncompliance," Scarinci said.
Corzine doesn't agree. "I believe in the stronger pay-to-play rules that we have at the state level. I think it's pretty transparent that I've taken a pro-reform stance and an anti-corruption stance on most things since I've been in Trenton," the governor said last week.
The rules haven't chased all contractors from the donation game.
Even though firms that want to keep big government contracts are banned from giving to gubernatorial candidates and committees run by the two parties, they still can donate to leaders of the state Legislature. Some are merely shifting their giving: For example, contractor donations to a committee run by Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) more than doubled last year, to $822,260.
And while some law firms have cut back on their political activism, others have taken advantage of a loophole that allows individual law partners to donate without retribution if they own less than 10 percent of the firm.
Archer & Greiner, a Haddonfield law firm that earned $292,000 as New Jersey counsel to the Delaware River Port Authority in 2004, didn't give any money as a firm last year, but its partners donated $116,500 to the major fundraising committees -- including $94,000 to the Democratic State Committee. They also gave $33,000 to Corzine's campaign.
Chris Gibson, a member of Archer & Greiner's board of directors who served on the Corzine fundraising committee last year, said none of the partners "remotely" owns 10 percent of the firm and each was free to donate.
He said the firm doesn't donate to try to get public work. Instead, "it helps us be part of the political process and support candidates we like and be visible in the political arena and to make a difference in New Jersey."
Corzine wants to extend the contractor ban to political committees run by leaders of the Legislature. He also wants to close the under-10-percent loophole for law partners and add developers to the ban.
In addition, he wants to prohibit parties from transferring donations from one committee to another -- a practice called "wheeling," which critics say makes it easy to get around limits on individual contributions. Corzine expects to press for these changes after the budget process, said his spokesman Anthony Coley.
Assemblyman Kevin O'Toole, the Essex County Republican chairman, said Democrats should be strengthening pay-to-play rules, not weakening them.
"The Republicans are anxiously awaiting the porthole to be slammed shut," he said.
Stronger ethics laws OK'd for towns
Published in the Asbury Park Press, on 01/6/06
TRENTON - Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed a law yesterday allowing local and county governments to have stronger pay-to-play bans than the one that took effect by state law Sunday.
"Today we take another step forward toward real ethical reform in New Jersey," Codey said in a prepared statement.
Some 60 counties and municipalities have already passed their restrictions on pay-to-play - the practice of giving government contracts to political donors - most stricter than the state's.
"This is what we've been waiting for," said Frank Kenny, one of a committee of petitioners to get pay-to-play restrictions in Dover Township. "We've been pushing this well over a year."
The Dover law was approved by voters in November's referendum. It restricts wheeling, making it stronger than the state law, Kenny said. "Now local politicans have to be more accountable to voters," Kenny said.
Codey's actions also allow counties and municipalities that haven't already passed laws to do so, said Lauren Skowronski, executive director of Common Cause New Jersey.
Counties and municipalities can also pass laws that would control pay-to-play regarding school boards, fire districts, and other independent authorities that hire professionals, she said.
"This also requires all professionals who get contracts to disclose political contributions 12 months prior" to the awarding of the contract, Skowronski said. "This brings a whole level of transparency to the contract awarding process," Skowronski said.
Those local governments without their own rules limiting pay-to-play will fall under the state's restrictions.
State Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Mercer, a sponsor of the law signed yesterday, said he was pleased local governments will be able to set their own restrictions but said lawmakers need to enact more comprehensive reform at all levels.
"The forces of reform have scored a victory over the political bosses and now we must use this accomplishment to return politics to the people," Inverso said.
Published in the Asbury Park Press, 1/6/06
By Gregory Volpe
TRENTON - Acting Gov. Codey signed a law Thursday allowing local and county governments to have stronger pay-to-play bans than the one that took effect by state law Sunday.
"Today we take another step forward toward real ethical reform in New Jersey," Codey said in a prepared statement.
Some 60 municipalities and counties have already passed their restrictions on pay-to-play, most stricter than the state's.
Those local governments without their own rules limiting pay-to-play - the practice of giving government contracts to political donors - will fall under the state's restrictions.
State law bans contracts over $17,500 from being given to a business that made a donation to the elected officials awarding the contract, or their political party committee - unless they are awarded through a "fair and open process."
Critics have said the state law has loopholes including letting local governments decide what's a fair and open process, not limiting donations from those who own less than 10 percent of the business and not preventing "wheeling" donations through county political parties or neighboring towns.
State Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Mercer, a sponsor of the law signed Thursday, said he was pleased local governments will be able to set their own restrictions but said lawmakers need to enact more comprehensive reform at all levels.
"The forces of reform have scored a victory over the political bosses and now we must use this accomplishment to return politics to the people," Inverso said.
Editorial published in the Trenton Times, 2/7/06
While New Jersey has a law barring the award of public contracts to major political contributors to gubernatorial candidates and the two state parties, its hundreds of local governments continue to be free to hand out business to those who "pay to play." The exceptions are the 60-odd towns and two counties, including Mercer, that have enacted their own pay-to-play prohibitions. Elsewhere, firms and professionals who choose not to give to the parties in control can be shut out of the contracting process, and taxpayers are overcharged for the work done in their name when the favored contractors build the cost of their donations into the prices they demand.
When the Democrats controlling the Legislature enacted the reform law in 2004, they included a provision that they said would take care of the local-government problem. That provision, with the rest of the law, took effect last month. It allows political contributions from contractors as long as the governments award the contracts through a so-called "fair and open" process in which they advertise for professionals such as lawyers and engineers in newspapers or on their Web sites. Applicants must supply "proposals or qualifications," which then are opened in public and announced publicly. However, unlike standard competitive-bidding laws, the provision doesn't require the local government to award the contract to the lowest bidder; in fact, it imposes no criteria at all for making the choice.
The effect has been the same-old, same-old. For example, last month, the Middlesex County Improvement Authority advertised, for the first time ever, for qualifications from firms interested in more than $1.5 million worth of contracts -- and then gave the no-bid contracts to the same politically connected lawyers, engineers and accountants that got them in 2005. The winning firms contributed at least $464,000 over a six-year period to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, which controls appointments to the MCIA. In Manalapan, the township attorney -- a Democrat and former mayor, but one who had made no recent money contributions to Democratic candidates -- was ousted this year under "fair and open" and replaced by a law firm that gave $2,000 to two Democratic candidates who won seats on the township committee last November.
Bergen County Freeholder Elizabeth Randall, a Republican, called the process a "brilliantly deceptive loophole," according to The Star-Ledger. "It allows them to exercise their ability to perpetuate the status quo," she said. Harry Pozycki, head of the Citizens' Campaign, a leading advocate of pay-to-play reforms, termed the "fair and open" requirement "a manipulation of language and a manipulation of the public because it's neither fair nor open on a substantive level."
Admittedly, to require that all professional contracts be awarded on the basis of price alone would be unsatisfactory, because professional services vary in quality depending on the ability and experience of the suppliers. That's why it's simpler and more effective, in attempting to wring the favoritism out of the process, simply to tell firms wishing to do business with local governments that they can't give more than a nominal amount to local elected officials or political parties. It's in no way a restriction on free speech, as some opponents of reform claim; it's a reform of the public procurement process that is designed to ensure that towns, counties and authorities get the best work for the money they spend.
Editorial published in the Asbury Park Press, 12/13/05
Finally. Maybe our legislators do listen to the public.
What better way to explain why the Senate last week unanimously approved a bill allowing tough local pay-to-play ordinances to stand when a weaker state law takes effect next month. The Assembly version of the bill was approved more than a year ago. Acting Gov. Codey, a sponsor of the bill as Senate president, should waste no time signing it.
But Trenton's work to restrict the influence of money in politics is far from over. The legislators shouldn't wait for Gov.-elect Jon Corzine's promised comprehensive pay-to-play reform package. Legislators should make banning pay-to-play - the practice of rewarding campaign contributors with no-bid government contracts - their own legacy and vote on pending bills that would restrict it at all levels of government before their session ends in January.
The Democratic leadership in the Senate refused to take action on S-1987 all year, usually citing a preference for a comprehensive pay-to-play ban. Meanwhile, campaign contributions flowed like water in this year's Assembly races. But more than 50 municipalities - many of them responding to demands by citizens - have adopted their own pay-to-play laws. Referendums in Dover and Edison townships received overwhelming support. Legislators had to feel the pressure to act.
The Senate vote is a tribute to citizen action. "We owe these individuals who provided so much work . . . those citizens who we encourage every day to get involved in local government. They did," said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex. Now is no time to let up. Keep up the pressure until top-to-bottom pay-to-play reform is achieved.
Editorial published in the Bergen Record, 12/12/05
YOU know that New Jersey's political financing laws are dysfunctional when the Legislature has to repair its own reforms.
Keeping his word, acting Governor Codey pushed a bill through the Senate last week that would enable towns and counties to have tougher measures against pay-to-play than the state law itself. The Assembly passed the bill last week, so the only step needed before the measure becomes law is Mr. Codey's expected signature.
That's good to hear, but before people go patting lawmakers on the back, they should keep in mind that the only reason this bill is necessary is because the Legislature passed a package of ethics reforms 18 months ago that superceded any tougher pay-to-play ordinances by school boards and municipal and county governments.
Without the new law, pay-to-play statutes enacted by 60 local governments statewide, including Ramsey and Hillsdale, would have been overturned on Jan. 1, and no new tough local ordinances could be passed. At least New Jersey is no longer taking a step backward.
Pay-to-play was a major issue in this fall's governor's race, with both Democrat Jon Corzine and Republican Doug Forrester vowing to clean up the system - by preventing people who do business with government at any level in New Jersey from donating large amounts to any political organization in the state. At present, campaign donors to municipal and county political organizations are often rewarded with hefty no-bid contacts - at great cost to taxpayers.
The two candidates also both pledged to end wheeling - the practice of circumventing limits on contributions by transferring large political donations among state, county and municipal political organizations.
One of Governor-elect Corzine's top priorities must be to work with the Legislature to pass these two much-needed reforms.
Would it be too much to ask for New Jersey to someday have a statewide campaign where corruption isn't a major issue?
Published in the Home News Tribune, 12/9/05
By Michael Symons
TRENTON - State senators approved a bill yesterday that will protect local pay-to-play limits on the awarding of government contracts to campaign donors, handing reformers who'd been pushing for the measure an unexpected victory.
"I think this bodes well for the comprehensive pay-to-play (reform) promised by Gov.-elect (Jon) Corzine because the people now have the power to keep up the pressure that will make his path easier," said Harry Pozycki, director of the Citizens' Campaign run by the Center for Civic Responsibility.
For Central Jersey residents, the Senate approval provides a safeguard for pay-to-play laws in Edison, Monroe, North Brunswick, Old Bridge, Sayreville, South Brunswick, Woodbridge and Franklin Township.
On Election Day last month, Edison's local campaign-finance-reform measure passed by more than 9,000 votes.
"I'm really glad people cared enough to stop the corruption that was going on and that the state cared enough, too," said Lauren Chiarulli, an 18-year-old Edison resident who collected signatures to put the reform on the Edison ballot.
Yesterday's vote was 34-0. Sen. Sharpe James, D-Essex, was absent from the session, and five senators who were in Trenton - Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, Ronald Rice, D-Essex, Nicholas Sacco, D-Hudson, Robert Singer, R-Ocean, and Robert Smith, D-Middlesex - didn't vote.
"We did more harm than good today," Smith said in a telephone interview yesterday. "It makes everything worse."
Smith said he wants a uniform law to govern campaign finance on the state, county and local levels. His gripe with the current setup is that it allows all 566 New Jersey municipalities to establish their own set of rules.
He said he is working on a law to cap donors at $2,000 in contributions during an election cycle.
Smith said he did not vote against the bill because he did not want to be cast as antireform. "I'm for reform," he said. "This is absolutely no reform."
Heather Taylor, spokeswoman for the Center for Civic Responsibility, said she agrees with Smith on the need for comprehensive reform.
"In the meantime, we need to rein in pay to play on the local level," Taylor said. "This will provide citizens the power to go their town councils and demand pay-to-play reform."
The proposal wasn't on the Senate agenda yesterday, but Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Mercer, had initiated a procedural motion - with permission from Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex - that the majority Democrats were unable to block. Instead, they brought the bill up for a vote.
A state law adopted in 2004 that takes effect Jan. 1 threatens to supersede some stronger local ordinances barring contracts for campaign donors that have been adopted by more than 60 municipalities and two counties.
"We're happy it's finally happened," Inverso said. "I think they succumbed to the pressure that was exerted by everyone."
"Congratulations to the thousands of citizens that have campaigned to have these laws in local towns . . . bringing sufficient pressure to bear that we had the victory we had today," Pozycki said.
Voters in a handful of municipalities, such as Edison, last month overwhelmingly backed reform referendums.
After a long caucus meeting that delayed the start of the session in which Democrats had an intense debate over whether to counter the procedural motion, they decided to make the bill the first brought up for a vote.
Published in the Asbury Park Press, 12/9/05
By Michael Symons
TRENTON - The Senate approved a bill Thursday that will preserve local and county pay-to-play limits on the awarding of government contracts to campaign donors, handing reformers who'd been pushing for the measure an unexpected victory.
The bill now only requires a signature from acting Gov. Codey, who as Senate president is a cosponsor of the bill and voted for it Thursday.
"I think this bodes well for the comprehensive pay-to-play (reform) promised by Gov.-elect (Jon S.) Corzine because the people now have the power to keep up the pressure that will make his path easier," said Harry Pozycki, director of the Citizens' Campaign.
The proposal wasn't on the Senate agenda, but Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Mercer, had initiated a procedural motion - with permission from Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex - that the majority Democrats were unable to block. Instead, they brought the bill up for a vote.
A state law adopted in 2004 that takes effect Jan. 1 threatened to supersede some stronger local ordinances - adopted by more than 60 municipalities and two counties - barring contracts for campaign donors.
"We're happy it's finally happened," Inverso said. "I think they succumbed to the pressure that was exerted by everyone."
"Congratulations to the thousands of citizens that have campaigned to have these laws in local towns . . . bringing sufficient pressure to bear that we had the victory we had today," Pozycki said.
The dynamics of the pay-to-play debate have changed somewhat. One of the bill's Assembly sponsors, Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, is now a senator. And voters in a handful of towns last month overwhelmingly backed reform referendums.
"We should give our local reformers the chance to push the envelope, and craft stronger and more creative bans on the pay-to-play crisis," Sen. Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, said in a statement. "Their efforts locally may spur New Jersey to adopt stronger regulations for everyone."
After a long caucus meeting in which Senate Democrats had an intense debate over whether to counter the procedural motion, they instead decided to make the bill the first brought up for a vote.
"We owe those individuals who provided so much work, through petitions, through going to public meetings, testifying in favor of this - we owe those citizens who we encourage every day to get involved in local government. They did," said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex.
"This bill . . . is an important next step toward banning pay-to-play in the state of New Jersey . . . I hope that day comes as quickly as possible," said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon.
Said Assemblywoman Greenstein, "It'll save very strong local ordinances. We're keeping with the will of the people who wanted these ordinances, and my hope is that sometime soon we'll have a very strong statewide anti-pay-to-play bill."
The vote was 34 to 0. Sen. Sharpe James, D-Essex, was absent, and five senators who were in Trenton - Raymond Lesniak, D-Union; Ronald Rice, D-Essex; Nicholas Sacco, D-Hudson; Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, and Robert Smith, D-Middlesex - didn't vote.
Published in the Bergen Record, 12/9/05
By Mitchel Maddux
Local governments would be allowed to create their own "pay-to-play" bans that are tougher than existing state laws under a measure that cleared the state Senate on Thursday.
The proposal, which cleared with bipartisan support, gives local governments and school boards the power to prevent some government contracts from going to political donors.
It passed 34-0, with six abstentions; the Assembly approved it Monday.
Acting Governor Codey, who backed the measure, is expected to sign it into law before he leaves office Jan. 17, officials said.
In a statement, Codey said the measure gives "local governments the authority to crack down on corruption and enact laws that are suitable to addressing the individual needs of their community."
More than 60 local governments statewide, including Ramsey and Hillsdale, have already passed their own pay-to-play laws. In some cases, those laws are tougher than the state ban, which was signed by former Gov. James E. McGreevey.
Lawmakers have been under pressure from grass-roots reformers to pass measures that would protect the stronger local bans.
Some argued that the reform passed in 2004 violated the state's tradition of home rule.
The 2004 measure grew out of a broader reform movement in recent years that sought to reduce the influence of money in state politics. The issue reached its zenith following a series of fund-raising scandals that engulfed McGreevey and some of his political allies.
Harry Pozycki, chairman of the reform group the Citizens' Campaign, said the state Senate's action Thursday demonstrates that taxpayers voices were heard with increasing urgency in the State House.
"You're seeing a new climate developing as a result of four years of citizen action on the ground," he said.
Pozycki said all New Jerseyans will benefit from allowing local governments to enact their own bans. "Pay-to-play generates the waste that pushes up property taxes," he said.
Republicans have been critical of the state pay-to-play reform measures, which were crafted and approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. They argued that the reform measures had king-size loopholes, and failed to halt "wheeling," the transfer of large political donations between local and state party organizations. Critics say the practice allows political groups to effectively circumvent limits on donations.
Sen. Peter Inverso, a Mercer County Republican, said Thursday that these problems must still be corrected.
"While today's victory was significant, it is but a first step in restoring the public trust in government institutions," Inverso said. "This Legislature still has time to enact true and comprehensive 'pay-to-play' reform that affects all levels of government, and enact a law that ends the corrupt practice of 'wheeling."
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the vote sends an important signal about New Jersey's reform efforts.
Weinberg, a longtime assemblywoman who moved to the Senate last month to replace retiring Sen. Byron Baer, said the measure helps "ensure that public contracts are awarded to deserving and qualified businesses, not just those with an inside financial track."
Editorial published in the Bergen Record, 11/23/05
When will Trenton take a clear stand for clean government?
Despite three putrid years of the deal-making McGreevey administration and a seemingly endless governor's race that featured political corruption as a top issue, it's still uncertain whether the state Senate has enough backbone to take an obvious step for cleaner government.
The legislation in question is a bill that would allow counties and municipalities to enact their own tough bans on pay-to-play - a by-now notorious form of legalized corruption that gives hefty government contracts to political donors.
Unless the Senate acts before the current session ends in early January, the strict local pay-to-play bans that two counties and more than 50 towns - including Hillsdale and Ramsey - have enacted could well be scuttled.
The Assembly passed the legislation, sponsored by then-Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, long ago. Now it's up to the Senate to follow suit before the current session expires on January 9. Ms. Weinberg, now a state senator, is hoping she'll get a chance to vote for the bill this year.
The trouble is that acting Governor Codey, who in his dual role as Senate president could bring the bill up for a vote any time when the Senate reconvenes next month, hasn't quite committed himself. His spokeswoman will say only that it's "definitely something he's looking into."
Translation: He's not sure he can get enough support for it to pass.
Ironically, this same Legislature created the mess a year and a half ago when it passed a so-called ethics reform package that had more loopholes than a volleyball net. Later, as Gov. James McGreevey departed amid scandals galore, he issued an executive order that reduced the potential for pay-to-play abuses but failed to close the loopholes for county and municipal governments.
So, for example, contributors who seek work at the county level can bypass pay-to-play restrictions by simply making big contributions to political parties at the local level, which in turn pass them along to the county pols.
To the acting governor's credit, he did get the Legislature to make Mr. McGreevey's executive order permanent. Senators have promised they would pass legislation to plug the loopholes at the municipal and county levels as well. Now time is running out, and it's looking more and more like the legislators - so many of them beholden to the powerful county political bosses - lack the moxie to keep their word.
Politicians talk a great game when it comes to reform. But their actions - or inaction - speak far louder than their words. If Trenton doesn't pass this simple legislation to allow counties and towns to clamp down on pay-to-play, New Jerseyans will know just how hollow their rhetoric really is.
Posted in the Courier News - 11/23/05
Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey is supposedly still "looking into" whether to allow a state Senate vote on a bill preventing local pay-to-play restrictions from being superseded by the state's version of the reforms.
Codey co-sponsored the bill himself more than a year ago. And its necessity is obvious; if the bill isn't approved soon, the local ordinances would effectively be scuttled as of Jan. 1, and the legislative process to resurrect the measure would have to begin from scratch next year.
So what could there possibly still be to consider?
If Codey, as Senate president, blocks this bill, he will mark himself a hypocrite after claiming to be a reformer. It also will be a shameful bow to his fellow Democrats, many of whom want pay-to-play -- trading off fat government contracts for big campaign donations -- to continue unchecked, but don't want to admit that in a vote. And it will expose Codey as one of those wanting the gravy train to keep chugging along.
This bill -- already overwhelmingly approved by the Assembly -- should have become law long ago. The state's restrictions on pay-to-play are all but worthless, riddled with easily exploited loopholes. In fact, one of the legal architects of the state's ban was alerting donors about how to get around it before the ink was even dry on the new restrictions earlier this year.
Some municipal officials have tried as best they can in developing their own tougher restraints. But those would be rendered moot by the weaker state law without legislation protecting them.
The harsh reality is that many New Jersey lawmakers desperately want to continue cheating taxpayers with sweetheart, no-bid deals so they can reward their pals and fill up their own campaign coffers. The Democrats are the bigger cheats at the moment, but that's largely because they're the ones with all the power right now. This isn't strictly a Democratic weakness; Republicans did nothing about pay-to-play when they held many of the cards in the Whitman years.
It's bad enough state legislators collectively are so self-absorbed and skittish that they can't bring themselves to actually stop pay-to-play, no matter how much some of them publicly clamor for reform. Some even argue with a straight face that pay-to-play helps underdog candidates compete with wealthier opponents. In other words, taxpayers should want to be cheated to help out the little guy, apparently.
It's offensive, however, for lawmakers unwilling to do the right thing to try to stop others from doing it. And that's what would happen if potentially worthy local restrictions -- some of which have been directly approved by voters -- are buried by the state's pitiful prohibitions.
Gov.-elect Jon Corzine has promised comprehensive pay-to-play restrictions, and on Tuesday unveiled his new ethics advisory panel to begin mapping out his reform agenda. But until he delivers-- and there's enormous reason for skepticism given the history of such reform attempts and the need for legislative approval -- local officials have to be allowed a free hand to compensate for the Legislature's failings.
The bill should be voted on and approved by the end of the year.
Editorial Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/23/05
Acting Gov. Codey is co-sponsor of a bill to make sure local pay-to-play ordinances are not superseded when a state law regulating political contributions and government contracts takes effect Jan. 1. But he has not wielded his power as Senate president to make it happen. What's he waiting for?
The bill, S-1987, has been passed by the Assembly and has been ready for Senate action for more than a year. The legislation is needed because it would preserve the more than 50 municipal pay-to-play ordinances. Many of those ordinances are stronger than the state law in severing the connection between lucrative government contracts and contributions to the politicians who award them.
The Citizens' Campaign, a statewide good-government group backing ethics reform, is asking Codey to post S-1987 for a vote during the lame-duck legislative session that starts Dec. 8. If he doesn't, the bill will die. Supporters will then have to start all over again in both houses when the new Legislature convenes in January.
Failing to post the bill will "nullify the vote of the citizens and the local government officials who took on the challenge of corruption at the local level," Citizens' Campaign chairman Harry Pozycki said at a news conference Monday.
Kelley Heck, Codey's spokeswoman, said the bill "is something that he is looking into right now." He's had plenty of time to look into it, including the time leading up to his co-sponsorship of the bill. It's time for him to act. There is no justification for further delay.
As Heather Taylor, communications director of the Citizens' Campaign, says on our commentary page today, the Senate Democrats have offered "a shifting set of excuses" for not voting on S-1987. The latest, she says, is to defer to Gov.-elect Corzine, who has promised to make comprehensive pay-to-play reform a priority when he takes office in January. But final passage could take months, giving some donors free rein for contributions for the June primary elections in the absence of the tougher local pay-to-play ordinances.
Efforts to limit the role of money in campaigns and the hidden tax that pay-to-play has become must not be impeded by politicians unwilling to turn off the campaign donation spigot. Codey says he backs those efforts. It's time for him to prove it.
Published in the Asbury Park Press, 11/22/05
By Lauren O. Kidd
TRENTON - The civic group that has pushed governing bodies in more than 50 municipalities and two counties to adopt restrictions on pay-to-play fears its work is in jeopardy.
The Citizens' Campaign is pressing Senate President Codey, who is also acting governor, to post bill S-1987 for a vote before the end of the lame-duck session of the Legislature, when all unpassed bills expire and the lawmaking process starts from scratch.
That bill has been ready for a Senate vote for more than a year, when the Assembly endorsed it by a 75-to-2 vote. The bill would make it clear that local pay-to-play laws would not be superseded when a state measure dealing with the trading of government contracts for campaign dollars takes effect Jan. 1.
"The citizens of New Jersey can lose a right that will not only allow them to advance their interest in reforming pay-to-play, but to exercise some responsibility in restoring the state's integrity," said Harry Pozycki, Citizens' Campaign chairman. He says most local bans are stronger than the state's.
The bill his group backs would let locally enacted bans stand. It authorizes "units of local government to impose limits on political contributions by contractors," according to its language.
"A failure to post this bill would be to nullify the votes of the citizens and the local government officials who took on the challenge of corruption at the local level," Pozycki said at a Statehouse news conference Monday.
Codey - who as Senate president decides which bills are posted for votes, and as acting governor signs them into law - is among the bill's cosponsors.
The bill is "under consideration," said Kelley Heck, Codey's spokeswoman. "It is something that he is looking into right now."
Pozycki said his group "will be mounting an aggressive lobbying campaign" to get the bill posted for a vote at the Senate's next session, Dec. 8. After that, the Senate has three more voting sessions scheduled before the session ends Jan. 9.
Frank Kenny of Dover Township was instrumental in helping that municipality pass its pay-to-play reform in a ballot question this month. Voters approved it 16,190 to 4,190.
For the last 24 months, Kenny and other reform-minded citizens have been "knocking on doors, talking to the average citizen, explaining to them exactly what pay-to-play is," Kenny said.
"Basically Dover Township is sick of this," Kenny said. "So I am reaching out now to our Senate, to please, don't let down the people of Dover Township. Please pass the bill in the next few weeks."
Published in the Trenton Times, 11/22/05
By Tom Hester Jr.
Vowing to mount an aggressive campaign to save local bans on campaign contributions from government contractors, a government watchdog yesterday beseeched acting Gov. Richard J. Codey to take action on a long-stalled bill that would allow local governments to create their own campaign finance reform.
Harry Pozycki, chairman of the Citizens' Campaign, asked Codey, who is also Senate president, to post for a vote on Dec. 8 an Assembly-approved bill that would permit local governments to implement their own so-called pay-to-play bans.
Those bans, instituted by 50 local governments, including many local entities, are set to expire Jan. 1 if the bill isn't turned into law.
"In less than 40 days, hard-won local pay-to-play reforms will be put in jeopardy," Pozycki said.
The bill was approved 75-2 by the Assembly in November 2004. It has received Senate committee consideration, but no floor vote.
Codey is a co-sponsor, but the bill is opposed by many Senate Democrats. The Democrats control the Senate 22-18.
An attempt by Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Hamilton, to get the bill posted for a vote failed on June 27 by a 20-17 vote.
Pozycki wants the bill heard during the upcoming lame duck legislative session, between now and when the new Legislature organizes on Jan. 10, but whether that will happen remained uncertain yesterday.
"It is something the governor is currently looking into," Codey spokeswoman Kelley Heck said.
All bills not adopted by Jan. 10 will expire and would have to be reintroduced to be considered again. The Senate next meets on Dec. 8.
The local bans will expire under an existing state law that prohibits donors to gubernatorial candidates or state or county political parties from receiving any state contract worth more than $17,500. That law bars local governments from creating their own measures.
Pozycki said the Assembly-approved bill would "correct the mistake that was made."
He cited how many local bans have been instituted via voter approval after citizens mounted a petition drive. "To take away the power of the people to back it and pass it will be a terrible thing," Pozycki said.
He said he's confident the bill will pass if it's posted for a vote. "The real question is whether or not the bill will be posted," Pozycki said.
East Windsor, Franklin, Hamilton, Hightstown, Hopewell Township, Lawrence, Mansfield, Mercer County, Millstone, Monroe, Montgomery, South Brunswick, Washington and West Windsor are among the local governments that have enacted their own pay-to-play limits.
Pozycki noted voters in Edison and Dover Township in Ocean County approved local bans during the Nov. 8 election.
Published in the Express Times, 11/22/05
By Terrence Dopp
TRENTON - Throughout New Jersey, 50 communities and two counties have enacted laws to end so-called pay-to-play politics.
The snag? A less-stringent state law takes effect Jan. 1 that supersedes those passed in dozens of towns and two counties which restrict or forbid companies that donate money to political candidates from being considered for public works contracts.
Grass roots clean up government activists and some lawmakers are looking to pass a bill preventing the local laws from being tossed.
"There is a significant danger of losing the efforts citizens have made in 50 municipalities," said Harry Pozycki, executive director of the Citizens Campaign. "In essence, failing to post this will nullify the votes of citizens and officials in those 50 municipalities."
Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance said the cost of real estate taxes cannot be contained without addressing pay-to-play within municipal and county governments.
"It's an extra tax. At the local level, it's an extra property tax burden of at least a billion dollars statewide," said Lance, R-Hunterdon/Warren.
No communities within Lance's district have opted to get tough with pay-to-play contracts. But government officials in dozens of communities statewide are watching to see if local laws are nullified or if they are prohibited from taking action in the future.
In Monroe Township, Gloucester County, the local pay-to-play law ordinance limits donors to $300 to council members and $400 to mayoral hopefuls or up to $2,500 in total if they wanted to remain eligible for government contracts, Fleming said.
The state law would offer more wiggle room, barring contributors from receiving contracts only if they are worth over $17,500.
Pozycki called on the Legislature and acting Gov. Richard Codey to approve the measure preserving the local laws. The bill already cleared the Assembly, during the lame duck session in December.
That session ends when Gov.-elect Jon Corzine and the next Legislature are sworn in. Pozycki is hoping freedom from electoral politics spurs legislators in the upper house to pass the bill.
Political insiders and clean government activists estimate pay-to-play adds 10 percent to the cost of public contracts as vendors build in the price of donations. At the worst, groups such as the Citizens Campaign say, politicians trump up new projects to secure more and larger donations.
Pozycki said if citizens can hold politicians' accountable for voting on pay-to-play reform it is likely to pass as it did in Monroe Township.
"What the bill needs is the light of day," he told reporters at the Statehouse. "When contracts can be created in order to give politicians the ability to play this game, it's taxpayers who get it."
Editorial Published in the Trenton Times, 11/17/05
Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, D-Newark, announced last year that he was "fed up" with reformers who wanted to ban the pay-to-play system of campaign financing. The people of New Jersey cared nothing about the issue, Mr. Caraballo said. His statement was a slur on the public, and, moreover, it was wrong. Events continue to prove it.
On Nov. 8, voters in two more New Jersey municipalities overwhelmingly approved ordinances to prevent individuals and companies that make political contributions from reaping the rewards of their generosity by receiving contracts from the local governments. In Edison, 81 percent of the voters favored the reform; in
Dover Township (Toms River), the yes vote was 79 percent. The results were similar to those in last year's referendums in which citizens banned pay-to-play in Hoboken (90 percent) and Lawrence Township (77 percent). Also last Tuesday, Philadelphia voters approved a similar ordinance by 87 percent. The Toms River and Edison votes brought the total number of towns in New Jersey with such bans to 58.
All these local actions add up to a powerful citizen demand for the Legislature to enact a tougher pay-to-play law that will cover all county and municipal governments in the state - a move strongly supported by Gov.-elect Jon Corzine. The Senate can take the first step when the lame-duck session meets next month by approving a bill, already passed by the Assembly, to protect the existing local ordinances. Under present state law, those ordinances will be wiped off the books Jan. 1, and citizens in other communities will be barred from cleaning out the pay-to-play corruption in their own back yards. Richard J. Codey, acting governor and Senate president, and his fellow Democrats who control the upper house can prevent that disgraceful outcome. We urge them to do it.
Editorial in Asbury Park Press, 11/17/05
The head of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission didn't mince words Tuesday about the need to upgrade the ELEC database. 'The computer has now really become the heart of disclosure. If you don't have a computer system and a Web site that's completely functional, you're not really disclosing what's going on,' said executive director Frederick M. Herrmann.
Legislators who profess a commitment to financial disclosure as a key element of ethics reform should take those words to heart. They must approve ELEC's request for an additional $1 million to expand the commission's computer system.
Up-to-the-minute, easy-to-navigate Internet access is essential for government agencies to serve the public in the 21st century. It comes at a price. But it is an expense governments on all levels must bear to provide open access to how officials conduct the public's business.
Herrmann wants ELEC's Web site to post lists of those who contribute to local campaigns. Now, the Web site can only sort donors to state and county political committees. As of Jan. 1, a new state pay-to-play law would limit donations to candidates for municipal government. But it would undermine tougher pay-to-play ordinances passed by towns, something the Legislature should make sure does not happen.
The law bars public contracts worth more than $17,500 from being awarded to businesses that donate more than $300 to the politicians who award the contracts or to their political party committees.
It does not address 'wheeling,' the transfer of donations from one political organization to another that can hide the identity of the donor. It also exempts contracts awarded after a 'fair and open' process - publicly advertised and awarded in public as part of a defined procedure. That is not the same as a competitively bid contract.
The state's pay-to-play law doesn't go far enough. The Legislature must ban pay-to-play at all government levels along with the wheeling that circumvents restrictions. That would go a long way toward restoring the public's faith in government. ELEC's call for easy public access to campaign donation records is a natural complement to that effort.
Published in the Home News Tribune - 11/1/05
By Louse Riscalla
Paying for political office in return for favors, business or other considerations and buying political office through personal wealth has gone on for centuries. As a result, it has practically become socially acceptable political behavior.
Pay to play is the practice of making donations to political campaigns with the expectation of receiving government no-bid contracts, political appointments - including high-paying jobs - and doing what is asked by the contributor in return.
Citizen advocacy groups such as Common Cause NJ as well as the press have been urging political campaign reform for many years because of the destructiveness and corruption in government caused by pay-to-play practices.
The resulting legislation and local ordinances all appear to set limits and caps on campaign contributions, but they can also provide loopholes for those who practice pay to play to crawl through. Loopholes are a way to preserve the pay-to-play system because, for example, they provide for campaign contributions in the local ordinances and legislation. Pay to play seems to be a form of legalized bribery and will continue as long as political campaign donations are made by individuals and companies in return for favors.
Every candidate has a campaign committee that collects and spends money on behalf of the candidate. Donations are made to the campaign to avoid bribery charges. If candidates accepted donations directly from donors in return for favors, it could be perceived as illegal.
The New Jersey Fair and Clean Election Pilot Program attempts to remove access to wealth by financing political campaigns and has a financial threshold that must be met in order to obtain public funds. Many gifted leaders cannot run for political office because they are unable to afford the financial threshold, or don't have the money or financial support of political parties, businesses or wealthy individuals. These gifted leaders do not want to pay homage to any individual, group or business.
The New Jersey Fair and Clean Election Pilot Project helps to level the playing field. However, it seems to have a rather high financial qualification limit required in order to obtain funds. According to a letter to the editor in the Home News Tribune of Oct. 9, Assemblyman Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, revealed an awareness of the need to modify and repair any flaws in the program.
The New Jersey Fair and Clean Election Pilot Program could be modified to eliminate any financial qualifications. A flat fee given to candidates for campaigning purposes with no personal or financial qualifications, stipulations or strings attached would level the playing field and could conceivably eliminate pay to play. The New Jersey Fair and Clean Election Pilot Program - with modifications - seems to be the best way to solve the complicated and confusing problems and loopholes inherent in current pay-to-play legislation and local ordinances.
The New Jersey Fair and Clean Election Pilot Program helps to eliminate special-interest money and with public financing enables more citizens of New Jersey to gain access to public office.
The citizens of New Jersey deserve to be free of the destructive and corrupting influence of pay to play. There is an opportunity to change the mistakes of history with campaign finance reform. Campaign finance reform should be a priority along with finding ways to make clean elections work.
Exerpt taken from "Edison shows the way with pay-to-play limits", an editorial published in the Home News Tribune - 10/13/05
There is a cause for celebration among Edison residents nowt hat their Township Council has passed tough restrictions on pay-to-play, the damaging practice of awarding lucrative government contracts to political contributors...(based) closely to the model law promulgated by Common Cause New Jersey, the better-government group that has been pushing campaign-finance reforms across the Garden State the past several years.
Edison joins approximately 50 municipalities and two counties in New jersey that have their own pay-to-play laws.
But all is not well.
A state law that restricts the practice of pay-to-play at the municipal level of government ... will (possibly) supersede much stronger local ordinances unless state lawmakers amend the rules by the end of this year.
Acting Governor Codey who is also the Senate President, promised he would call for a Senate vote on a bill that allows municipalities to enact tougher pay-to-play reforms than those imposed by the state. The vote never took place. Unless the Senate takes action in its lame duck session, all local ordinances would be moot come Jan. 1.
State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, sponsor of the corrective legislation, said yesterday he continues to press for a vote. We wish him success - and so should taxpayers.
There is no question that it remains in the best interests of everyone, including the politicians themselves, to erase the corrupting influence of pay-to-play from government decision-making.
Call, write and e-mail your Senate representatives. Let them know you're watching and expect them to vote on the public's behalf. Maybe then they'll act.
Editorial published in the Home News Tribune, 03/24/05
Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey put his signature to a ground-breaking bill on Tuesday that imposes tougher caps on campaign donations made by state contractors. The legislation is a decisive first step toward cleaner state government, but it must not be the last. New Jersey lawmakers still have miles to go.
One piece of the reform puzzle that remains missing is a tough, statewide law that ensures residents won't be overrun by waste and corruption in the contracting process at the county and local levels of government.
The framework is in place. Common Cause New Jersey, the good-government advocacy group, has succeeded in persuading dozens of municipalities to adopt their own superstringent rules. The Common Cause model allows contributions of no more than $400 to local, county or state candidates, and $500 to party committees.
Unfortunately, the Legislature passed weaker limits for municipalities that go into effect next year. The measure supersedes local rules and local control.
New Jersey can do better. It must do better.
Tuesday was a fine day for more efficient, more equitable government. May there be many more like it.
Published in the New York Times, on 3/23/05
By David Kocieniewski
TRENTON, March 22 - Saying that New Jersey needs drastic campaign finance restrictions to restore public trust, Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed a bill into law on Tuesday that bans campaign contributions by companies that hold or seek large state contracts.
The bill, among the most stringent in the country, prohibits any vendor who has made contributions to a candidate for governor, the Legislature or a party committee from receiving a contract worth more than $17,500. The law exempts contributions to federal candidates, because the United States Department of Transportation said that such a ban might conflict with federal procedures and force the state to forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in highway aid.
Mr. Codey, who took office after former Gov. James E. McGreevey was hobbled by scandals, some of them involving contributors, said he was gratified that the long struggle to enact a ban on the practice known as "pay to play" had succeeded, despite ferocious lobbying efforts and partisan squabbling.
"For the past couple of years, people have been talking about ethics in government, about the need to bring back accountability, the need to ban pay-to-play and the need to restore the public's trust," said Mr. Codey, who like his predecessor is a Democrat. "Today, we are getting it done."
Republicans, who temporarily stalled the bill last month, saying it did not go far enough, praised Mr. Codey for taking a first step in limiting the influence of campaign contributors. But Leonard Lance, the Senate minority leader, said he hoped the ban would eventually be extended to contributors to county and municipal races. Mr. Codey and Mr. Lance said they were working on a measure that would ban the practice of "wheeling," or transferring contributions from various accounts in different counties, thus sidestepping the legal limit for a single county.
Harry S. Pozycki, the chairman of Common Cause New Jersey, said the law enacted on Tuesday was a step in that direction and would help elected officials restrict the corrosive effects of money in the political system. "This is an excellent start," said Mr. Pozycki, who has been advocating campaign finance reform in Trenton for years.