Ursa, Unions behind smear mailers

8/20/2009 Update:

Old Media follows up on 411 story (days later)

Hoboken411 is proud that the longtime collaborative relationship with fellow muckraker estevens has brought you many investigative stories the Hudson County real estate ad-driven print media outlets have a habit of leaving “untold.”

hoboken-print-media-sucks-and-deseves-to-go-out-of-business

On Monday, the 411 exclusive story on the funneling of $175,000 dollars through PACs in the last Mayoral campaign was too big for them to ignore. In reaction, the (non-Hoboken resident) writer for a daily newspaper glommed comments from the developer involved:

(Ursa Development Principal Michael) Sciarra admitted today that he donated the money to the PACs, because he saw now-Acting Mayor Zimmer as less receptive to redevelopment projects in Hoboken. “People are tuning this into something that’s evil,” said Sciarra today. “But in the history of America you want people elected who share your views of the future. It’s not about greedy developers. It’s about building things in Hoboken that make the place better.”

Sciarra said he joined with the unions to send out the smear flyers because they both want the same thing for Hoboken: development. “Investment creates jobs, money and vitality in the neighborhood,” said Sciarra. “The unions –anybody concerned with economic development — is going to say we can’t make it politically difficult to build in New Jersey.”

By the way, if this story does make it into the actual newspaper you can bet the editors will remove the characterization of these as smear fliers. The paper out of Journal Square also sought comment from the construction unions who contributed to the poorly executed smear campaign:

“In Hoboken, as in other areas, we look to support pro-labor candidates who are interested in promoting economic development,” said Rob Lewandowski, a spokesperson for the NJ State Laborers PAC. Members of that union have worked on many projects in Hoboken, including Maxwell Place, the W hotel, The Berkshire, and the NJ Transit repair facility.”

They’re squirming like fish out of water…

caren-lissner-matzner-hoboken-reporter-nj1Meanwhile, the bigwig editor (Caren Matzner – who “enjoys Hoboken411 coverage“) at the Hoboken paper (once owned by the biggest developer in town) would only write that this story was “first reported by a local website” going out of their way to avoid mentioning Hoboken411 by name. It’s not the first time. Apparently the policy at the weekly fishwrap is to only mention 411 by name when it’s under scrutiny. David must have clearly gotten to Goliath (a long time ago – badly!) And Caren had personally told me that practice would stop. So much for that! (Trust only those you love – seriously!)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy both papers followed up on the story because it needs to be told. I laugh that they never offer Hoboken411 any credit for breaking the news (which happens so often, I cannot find a calculator that has that many digits).

The real test for these papers is whether the stories will go from their hardly-read wannabe websites into the newspapers themselves (which are still meagerly read).

Hoboken411 site stats say that most internet-savvy people in Hoboken have already seen this story on 411, but I feel that the old school (super-mini) minority who rely exclusively on the ink-stained wretches should see this as well.

See the story we broke first on Monday morning after the jump!

8/17/2009:

Wonder no more!

Mystery solved! Just like one of “those meddling kids” who hang out with Scooby Doo, Hoboken411 contributor estevens has done the legwork to find out exactly who was behind the last minute negative campaign fliers that dropped en masse into our mailboxes last May and June. As many suspected, one of Hoboken’s largest developers was using these PAC’s to circumvent Hoboken’s Redeveloper Pay-to-Play laws. Read on for the results of the investigation, plus our postscript on what was probably a big waste of money anyway.

Estevens investigates: The case of The Mystery PACS

During the recent municipal elections, Hoboken residents received an avalanche of mailings, particularly in the last weeks leading up to the runoff election between mayoral candidates Peter Cammarano and Dawn Zimmer. In addition to literature from the campaigns, voters also received a number of mailings from two mysterious groups taking issue with candidate Dawn Zimmer. Citizens for the Future sent out two citywide mailings (including prior to the first vote in May), followed by three from the Building America Committee. Little was known about these two groups and their interest in Hoboken politics. Since then, we’ve been able to gather some information about them.

Who are the Citizens for the Future?

Citizens for the Future is a Washington D.C. political action committee (PAC) founded in 2002 to engage “in issue advocacy and support(s) candidates for public office.” CFTF’s directors – Harold C. Malchow, Patricia Hoppey, and Richard Schlackman – are also principals at MSHC Partners, a Washington D.C. political marketing and mailings firm.

In a mid-year report filed with the IRS obtained by Hoboken411, CFTF lists only two contributors. Michael Sciarra of Hoboken’s URSA Development Group contributed $49,976 on May 1. The NJ Regional Council of Carpenters contributed another $50,000 on June 1.

URSA – along with its partner Tarragon – is the redeveloper of the Upper Grand properties in northwest Hoboken. Their Hoboken properties include 800 Madison, 1000 Jefferson, 1100 Adams, 1118 Adams, 1200 Grand, and 1300 Grand, as well as properties in the proposed Western Edge and NoHo redevelopment areas. The NJ Carpenters Non-Partisan Political Education Committee – the political arm of the Council of Carpenters – contributed $5000 to Peter Cammarano’s 2009 campaign committee on May 28.

Ursa waiting for 2005 donations to pay off

Back in 2005, Sciarra and his URSA partner Mark Settembre contributed over $90,000 in total to the Roberts Team and the Hoboken Democratic Party and Hudson County Democratic Organization, both of which funneled money to the Roberts Team (David Roberts, Peter Cammarano, Ruben Ramos, and Terry LaBruno). Around this time URSA/Tarragon entered into an illegal Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Hoboken to enter into exclusive negotiations for redevelopment of the Western Edge. Portions of that plan ended up in the Roberts Team’s “Open Space Initiative”, but have since been held back by strong community activist opposition.

In early May, just a few days after receiving Sciarra’s contribution, CFTF started spending. MSHC Partners was paid $28,600 for production of mail pieces and postage. Civic Census Group of Washington, D.C. received $19,376 for consulting fees and phone programs. Universal Printing of Dunmore, PA received $5211 for postage for mail pieces. Civic Census Group was paid an additional $46,000 on June 1, the same day that CFTF received the $50,000 from the Council of Carpenters. More on Civic Census Group to follow.

mark-settembre-and-robert-lisa-meet-at-brass-rail-hoboken-nj
(Mark Settembre, Dominic Lisa and another unidentified individual have a snack at the Brass Rail.)

So what’s this Building America Committee?

Building America Committee is another Washington D.C. PAC established on May 19 by Keith Carbone. He’s a political operative who’d previously performed canvassing work in Bergen County for the Bob Menendez Senate campaign. Building America is described as “committed to building progressive infrastructure at federal, state, and local levels through issue advocacy and citizen outreach.”

Like, Citizens for the Future, Building America’s mid-year filing also shows only two contributors. On May 27, Building America received a $25,000 contribution from URSA Development Group. On May 28, a $50,000 contribution was received from the NJ State Laborers PAC. The Laborers PAC also contributed $5000 directly to Peter Cammarano’s campaign on March 13, followed by a $6000 contribution on May 18.

Building America hits the airwaves and mailboxes

In the days following, LUC Media, a political media buying firm, received $30,000 for a cable media buy. The Strategy Group of Washington D.C. received $22,725 for design and production of mailings. Ben Tevelin of Field Strategies in Washington D.C. received $8000 for consulting services (Field Strategies shares an address with the aforementioned Civic Census Group). Universal Printing Company received $7794 for shipping costs. Jan Promotions of Moonachie, NJ received $1477 for design and production of t-shirts. On June 9, the day of the Hoboken municipal runoff election, AMM Political Strategies of Southlake, TX was paid $1404 for phone calling.

To be fair, nothing here proves a coordinated effort between the Cammarano campaign and the two PACs. The timing of events, however, shows that the interested parties – building trade unions and local developers – certainly had an interest in seeing Cammarano elected to the mayor’s office.

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But didn’t Cammarano denounce these PACs?

Yes, but not until they started doing damage to his campaign. The first set of fliers from Citizens For The Future came out just before the May vote. These were more factual and less ridiculous than the Building America Committee ads that followed. Some Zimmer supporters attempted to blame Beth Mason’s supporters for the CFTF mailers, which seems ridiculous with the information we have today. The Building America Committee PAC campaign was so bad that the Cammarano campaign came out publicly demanding whoever was responsible for it to stop. Though the PAC’s aim (as well as Ursa’s and the Union’s) was to get Cammarano elected, the message in the ads was so poorly constructed that it had a negative effect on the candidate they were attempting to support.

The money doesn’t stop there

Cammarano also received $2000 from the IBEW Local Union #164, $2000 from the Plumbers Local #14, $1000 from Operating Engineers Local #825, and $1000 from Pipefitters Local #274. Union construction is used for big buildings, such as those proposed for the NJ Transit yard and Observer Highway corridor. Never too far from the action, NJ Assemblyman and former Hoboken Councilman Ruben Ramos has received $2500 this year from the NJ State Laborers PAC.

Other Hoboken411 stories of note that fill in some of the backstory here:

So do you really think that “Sting Operation” from the FBI netted all individuals in Hoboken that were up to no good?

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17 Comments on "Ursa, Unions behind smear mailers"

freewheelin
Member

That paper is also written and edited incredibly amateurishly. I’ve seen more sophisticated reporting in high school papers. The number of typos is staggering, information is often wrong and the aforementioned biases are laughably obvious. And the letters section is a complete joke–they seem to publish anything they get, from bad poetry to politicians pumping up themselves and their cronies to illiterate locals venting to crazies going on about national affairs that need not be discussed in a local rag.

mooshu
Member
mooshu

Forgot to add that the graphic is great!

Keep up the excellent work, 411 and estevens :).

mooshu
Member
mooshu

Why does anyone read the Hoboken Reporter? It has two big stories plus an endless stream of plugs for developers, real estate and insurance honchos plus letters to the editor and that random psychologist lady.

Why? That paper isn’t helping our community at all. It’s mostly doing advertising for the greedy.

estevens
Member

I don’t think that the article so much disparages PACs as it reveals who was funding the mailings that were sent out during the recent election. My issue is not with PACs but with the concealing the identity of campaign supporters in our local elections.

For what it’s worth, the two groups are registered with the IRS as 527’s, or tax-exempt organizations created primarily to influence the election or defeat of candidates. As they were not advocating for or against candidates for federal elective office, it would appear that they are not required to file with the FEC.

Red Haven
Member
Red Haven

Great work estevens! At the very least it’s a violation of the clear spirit of Hoboken’s Redeveloper Pay-to-Play ordinance and it shouldn’t be allowed. Hard to believe $180k was spent on these lame fliers and ads. Then again, Ursa is the same group that thought advertising their plan for the Western Edge Redevelopment on Concha’s site was going to change minds and influence people. Is it any wonder why Tarragon went bankrupt?

In response to estevens who said:
I don’t think that the article so much disparages PACs as it reveals who was funding the mailings that were sent out during the recent election. My issue is not with PACs but with the concealing the identity of campaign supporters in our local elections.

For what it’s worth, the two groups are registered with the IRS as 527’s, or tax-exempt organizations created primarily to influence the election or defeat of candidates. As they were not advocating for or against candidates for federal elective office, it would appear that they are not required to file with the FEC.

CalGard
Member
CalGard
I agree that estevens has done a great job. It took me a while to absorb what he wrote here, and now wish I could retract some previous posts. Thank goodness that POG pushed for the Pay-to-Play ordinance in Hoboken. Shame on the state and federal governments for making it so easy for this ordinance to be by-passed by the use of IRS approved 527 non-profit political groups. URSA (or a partner, ie. Michael Sciarra) and unions (like NJ Carpenters), who benefit from prodevelopment allies, can give money to these 527 groups registered outside of NJ who then can then transfer the money to political marketing machines to produce campaign advertising for or against any candidate. As estevens points out – adding to the insult is that in the case cited here, the person responsible for setting up the non-profit political group is the same person who funnels the money he collects to his own political advertising firm so he to profits directly from the activity. And this is legal as long as a candidate’s campaign is not demonstrably directly involved in what is happening. Evidence of a candidate’s involvement is obvious but unfortunately circumstantial. The frustrating fact is that the IRS has all the data we need to do a thoughtful and thorough investigation and uncover all sorts of dubious connections between individuals and organizations. If I could access the complete database without having to navigate the cumbersome interface provided by the IRS, I would have a lot of… Read more »
CalGard
Member
CalGard

Too bad they aren’t PACs and registered with the FEC as then they would be legally obligated to post the contributors as well as the recipients of their funds. I think its good that PACs are transparent that way. And by the way, I never have and never will donate to any PAC.

In response to estevens who said:
I don’t think that the article so much disparages PACs as it reveals who was funding the mailings that were sent out during the recent election. My issue is not with PACs but with the concealing the identity of campaign supporters in our local elections.

For what it’s worth, the two groups are registered with the IRS as 527’s, or tax-exempt organizations created primarily to influence the election or defeat of candidates. As they were not advocating for or against candidates for federal elective office, it would appear that they are not required to file with the FEC.

elainetyger
Member
elainetyger

The problem is that if you are going to speak out for or against a candidate, or pay money for or against a candidate, there should not be this 3 levels of secrecy. “People who are concerned” giving an opinion are different from “people who have a dog in the race.”

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