Ravi Bhalla Pays to Play

5/3/2010 Update:

Report: Bhalla violates ELEC law

plus more Pay-to-Play contract revelations

“A councilman representing a city at the forefront of pay-to-play reform has apparently flouted the state pay-to-play law.” – Ron Zeitlinger, Deputy Managing Editor, The Jersey Journal

That’s the opening line of an article to be published in Tuesday’s newspaper revealing more damning information about Ravinder S. Bhalla’s public contracts. The JJ is reporting Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s Councilman-at-Large failed to file the Business Entity Annual Statement required under law by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). This mandatory form requires private vendors who do business with government bodies and agencies to report all contracts they’ve been awarded, as well as include all contributions to candidates, political parties, and political action committees.

Bhalla fails to file required ELEC forms for three years

The paper contacted Bhalla when they learned he hadn’t filed the BE form, which is designed to make sure public contractors are following state and local Pay-to-Play guidelines. Bhalla’s reaction went from denial, to surprise, to a mad rush to cover his tracks.

On Friday afternoon, Bhalla, who has or had contracts with Union City, Newark, Hoboken and Dumont said in a telephone interview that he did not have to file the form. In a follow-up interview said he was totally unaware of the form.”This is the first I’m hearing of this,” Bhalla said Friday. “I will review this and if it’s true then I will comply.” By Saturday evening, Bhalla’s firm, Bhalla and Cho, had filed the reports for 2007, 2008 and 2009. According to ELEC, any business that fails to file the form is subject to fines that may be based on the amount the business failed to report. — JJ

Bhalla Pays-to-Play in Union City, as well!

Remember how the Citizens Campaign reported Bhalla was given $120,000 in no-bid contracts after making a $2500 contribution to a PAC connected to Newark Mayor Cory Booker? Similar “coincidences” were found in Union City, according to the paper:

According to his freshly filed reports, Bhalla’s law firm donated $1,350 on March 19, 2008, and another $1,000 on June 11, 2008, to Union City First, the political action committee that supports Mayor Brian Stack. On July 1, 2008 his law firm was awarded a $127,000 contract from Union City. – JJ

Former Mayor Roberts gave Bhalla Hoboken contract too

How deeply is Ravinder S. Bhalla caught in New Jersey’s Pay-to-Play culture? His small firm earned $255,000 in municipal contracts last year and $323,000 in 2008. Former Hoboken Mayor David Roberts awarded Bhalla a contract to be counsel to the Rent Leveling Board. How is Bhalla defending himself?

“I truly did not know that it was my responsibility,” said Bhalla, “I would be curious to know how many attorneys, how many people are aware of it.” A quick check of some firms and attorneys known to have municipal contracts showed that they had all filed their state BE forms. – JJ

Claiming ignorance of the law is no defense, Mr. Bhalla. Didn’t they teach you that at Tulane?

More shoes are expected to drop on this story this week.

See earlier updates after the jump, including the report that started it all!

4/30/2010 Update:

More developments in the case of Hoboken Councilman Ravi Bhalla’s efforts to circumvent the City of Newark’s Pay-to-Play laws.

Bhalla contradicts Booker, digs himself deeper

As an attorney seeking legal contracts with the City of Newark, Ravinder S. Bhalla is prohibited by Executive Order from contributing more than $300 “to any Essex County party committees, or to any political action committee which regularly engages in or is formed for the purpose of engaging in the support of candidates or political parties in municipal elections in the City of Newark.” Bhalla contributed $2500 to the Empower Newark PAC before he received $120,000 in legal contracts from Newark. When the Star Ledger called Mayor Cory Booker for comment, they reported:

Booker has denied any control over Empower Newark. He said he has no legal authority to curb political action committees but declined to comment further. Officials from Empower Newark did not return numerous calls for comment. – Star-Ledger

Booker’s ties to Empower Newark are well established despite his comment. So much so that Bhalla himself rejected Booker’s claim in today’s daily paper from Jersey City:

Bhalla… responded that Booker is doing a great job in Newark and he will continue to support him within the limits of the law. It’s important for the government to have energetic and smart public servants, he added. “If there are pieces of the law that need to be strengthened, that’s up to Newark,” Bhalla said. — JJ

Bhalla went even further on another website, saying of Booker: “He’s a young, energetic, smart public servant and that is the type of person I want to support. My background with Booker is that I am genuinely inspired by his work in Newark.”

So, we have Cory Booker denying ties to Empower Newark, and Ravi Bhalla defending his right to give $2500 to Empower Newark specifically because he supports Booker. Bhalla’s support of Booker has been very lucrative, thanks to $120,000 in contracts awarded to the Hoboken Councilman by Booker’s adminstration.

POG President amends and corrects the record

Did you know the Hoboken City Council voted to publicly release a memo from Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s Corporation Counsel on Ravi Bhalla’s vote to give his officemate Paul Condon a public contract? Me either. Know why? Because it wasn’t done in public. It was discussed exclusively in Executive Session at the April 21st meeting. The memo was never actually released to the public, and can only be obtained via an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request at the City Clerk’s office.

For that reason People for Open Government President Alice Crozier can be forgiven for not knowing that either. She dropped me a note today correcting the record. Corporation Counsel Michael Kates should have immediately given the memo to Crozier and former POG President Eric Kurta, who met with Kates soon after the original Condon Pay-to-Play story was broken by Hoboken411. Instead, Kates is directing POG to obtain it by OPRA request. Immediately after Crozier was informed of this she contacted the media to correct the record.

4/29/2010 Update:

Even the well-respected “transparency police” organization People for Open Government are disappointed with Ravi Bhalla’s conduct. Here’s what POG President Alice Crozier has to say:

We expect action, not apologies

“The recent story about Hoboken Councilman-at-Large Ravinder Bhalla’s contribution to the PAC Empower Newark, allegedly in exchange for a lucrative city contract there, is extremely distressing. Bhalla, like his colleagues on the Hoboken City Council Carol Marsh and David Mello, ran only last fall on campaign promises of reform and clean government. All three are allies of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who also campaigned on a reform platform. Since 2004, Hoboken has adopted three ordinances that restrict pay-to-play practices. Bhalla’s apparent evasion of Newark’s pay-to-play laws by making his contribution to a PAC rather than to a candidate demonstrates exactly the cynical sort of political dealing that Hoboken is committed to ban from its public life.

Unfortunately, Bhalla was also involved in an alleged conflict of interest issue in Hoboken only two months ago, when he voted on the City Council to award a legal contract with the City of Hoboken to Paul Condon, with whom he shares an office and a secretary. At that time POG requested clarification by the City’s Corporation Counsel of the grounds for his advice to Bhalla that there was no conflict. Mr. Kates submitted his rationale to the Council several weeks ago but they have not made it public.

Hoboken People for Open Government (POG) expects more than a public apology from Mayor Zimmer and Councilman Bhalla; we expect action.”
Alice Crozier
President, People for Open Government

4/28/2010:

Star Ledger: Bhalla’s Newark contracts under fire

Hoboken Councilman-at-large Ravi Bhalla’s $120,000 no-bid legal contracts with the City of Newark have caught the attention of state anti Pay-to-Play activists.

According to the Star Ledger, Bhalla was among the public contractors who circumvented Newark’s anti Pay-to-Play law by making contributions to a Political Action Committee that funds allies of Newark Mayor Cory Booker. The same Booker whose administration gave a contract to Bhalla.

Did a $2500 contribution net a $60,000 contract?

The Ledger reports Bhalla made a $2500 contribution to the “Empower Newark PAC” on July 1, 2008. The very next day, Bhalla’s small law firm was awarded a $60,000 contract from the City of Newark. This contract was amended to add an additional $60,000 on March 4, 2009, just as Bhalla was mounting his campaign for Hoboken City Council.

Bhalla’s Pay-to-Play move is technically not a violation of law, but Citizens Campaign founder Harry Pozycki calls it a violation of the “spirit” of Newark’s Pay-to-Play law. Pozycki should know. His group helped draft it. He also had a hand in helping Hoboken’s People For Open Government (POG) get Pay-to-Play laws on the ballot here. Hoboken activist John Branciforte is Pozycki’s Hudson County coordinator.

What is “Pay-to-Play?”

Pay-to-play is the practice of donating to political candidates in exchange for lucrative government contracts. The Ledger says in 2008, Empower Newark accepted $35,200 from 10 city vendors. Within a year, five of the firms (including Bhalla’s) were awarded $5 million in new no-bid contracts and five got $8.2 million in amended contracts. Long before most Hobokenites had ever heard of Ravi Bhalla he was seeking public law contracts.

Former Mayor David Roberts’ administration awarded Bhalla a contract to provide legal services to Hoboken’s Rent Control Board.

Many New Jersey lawyers – including former Hoboken State Senator Bernie Kenny – have used their status in public office to drive business to their law firms. The Pay-to-Play laws are designed to curtail the self-enrichment of those who seek elected office.

Bhalla’s ties to Booker and Newark politics

Though Bhalla was a relative unknown in Hoboken a year ago, he was well known to Cory Booker’s political machine in Newark. Though he was an active Booker booster who was rewarded with a public contract, Bhalla sold himself to Hoboken as a “clean slate” candidate with no “ties to the politics of the past.” When Peter Cammarano was inaugurated last July, Booker appeared at the podium to heap praise on Cammarano and Bhalla alike, speaking in lush terms of his relationship with the first elected Sikh councilman. In addition to Booker and Roberts, Bhalla also held a public contract in Union City under Mayor Brian Stack.

Bhalla’s ethics once again in question

“Good government leadership requires respect for appearances as well as the letter of the law,” according to Pozycki, who is calling on Mayor Booker to close the Ravi Bhalla PAC loophole. It’s not the first time Bhalla’s relationships have been called into question. This story follow’s Bhalla’s vote to give a no-bid contract to the attorney he shares a lease and secretary with.

Bhalla continues to claim his innocence in the Paul Condon case, but the court of public opinion long since ruled the councilman should have declared his obvious conflict and recused himself from the council vote.

Now, a new embarrassment for Bhalla, called out by a statewide Good Government advocate for circumventing Newark’s Pay-to-Play restrictions.

86 Responses

  1. lonnie1wsj says:

    I’m hoping to see this Ravi jerk in hand cuffs…
    Is he kidding or what ?
    He first wasn’t sure that papers had to be filed, then, oh, ok I’ll file the papers..I guess now all is well…
    I have 2500 bucks for any business man that can hook me up with a 60,000 job…..Where do I sign up ????
    AND WHERE IS OUR LOVELY MAYOR WITH ALL THIS GOING ON ??

  2. HOB424 says:

    it’s very sneaky to donate through a PAC rather than directrly. It’s a way to hope noone notices. Plus, to start calling out candidates from an election that was a year ago is sour grapes. Mason is right to speak against him. Let him just admit, yes I did this, own up to it!.

  3. jc5201 says:

    I like Ravi, but how ’bout addressing the issue instead of deflecting and blaming. Haven’t we had enough of that? I voted for him. Don’t think he broke the law. But after last year’s debacle we are supposed to hold this council to a higher standard. Right?

  4. nacholibre says:

    In some kind of bad 80’s TV sitcom sort of way, I can imagine the mayor reading this story and yelling out of her office, “RAVINNNNNNDER!!!” Kind of like how your mom uses your full name when you are in deep doo doo.

  5. upyurs says:

    Mr Mello should move away from Mr Bhalla real quick. Anything attached to him will not be good. Mr Bhalla is in deep do-do, time will tell. Have you read the new executive order from Mr Christie about new forclosure requirements for all elected officials? Mr Bhalla will have alot to tell by next April filing date. WE WERE LIED TO. WHERE IS OUR 25% TAX CUT?

  6. Margaret says:

    Maybe he rubbed the magic lamp the wrong way! You cannot trust those genies
    once they get out of the bottle! 😈

  7. davemakkar says:

    Same comments are allowed on major newspapers like WP, CSM, HNT. For your whims & fancies I am not going to change the history that Racial Slurs called against Indians were under the Presidentship of a Jew Michael Schwartz of a Police Union during the tenure of a Jew AG Sturt Rabner & Jew Gov. Jon Corzine
    Councilman Bhalla is a big fraud paid to take action but refused to take action may be in barter deal he got some one’s remaining term on the Hoboken Council. Stop labeling Truth as Anti-Semite. I am pointing towards individuals with names not the entire community.
    Then I am writing against domestic pets of NJ Rulers posing as Indian community Leader like Councilman Ravi Bhalla, Assemblyman Chivukula, East Windsor Councilman Kamal Khanna, Edison Councilman Dr Sudhanshu Prasad, Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameduddin etc who thinks Indians are cockroache, animals, illiterates & illegal go home are compliments for Indian Community. These are the worst ever called racial slurs in over 200 yrs history of America.

    If you are not a racist person and beleive in equality you will join me in demanding written apology from Edison Police, Twp of Edison, County of Middlesex, AG & Gov of NJ.

    • hobores says:

      Dave you would have more credibility if you focused on the fact that if one immigrant community is targeted, and the folks who do it dont face any consequences, its sets a precedent for people to target ALL immigrant communities.

      forget the religion of the people who made the comments or the religion of the people against whom the comments were made. Stand up for ALL Immigrants and you will be more support from the community.[quote comment=”197879″]Same comments are allowed on major newspapers like WP, CSM, HNT. For your whims & fancies I am not going to change the history that Racial Slurs called against Indians were under the Presidentship of a Jew Michael Schwartz of a Police Union during the tenure of a Jew AG Sturt Rabner & Jew Gov. Jon Corzine
      Councilman Bhalla is a big fraud paid to take action but refused to take action may be in barter deal he got some one’s remaining term on the Hoboken Council. Stop labeling Truth as Anti-Semite. I am pointing towards individuals with names not the entire community.
      Then I am writing against domestic pets of NJ Rulers posing as Indian community Leader like Councilman Ravi Bhalla, Assemblyman Chivukula, East Windsor Councilman Kamal Khanna, Edison Councilman Dr Sudhanshu Prasad, Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameduddin etc who thinks Indians are cockroache, animals, illiterates & illegal go home are compliments for Indian Community. These are the worst ever called racial slurs in over 200 yrs history of America.If you are not a racist person and beleive in equality you will join me in demanding written apology from Edison Police, Twp of Edison, County of Middlesex, AG & Gov of NJ.[/quote]

      • Socc12 says:

        Zimmer, Ravi and friends are begging people to attend the fund raiser which will include Cory Booker. I asked does the proceeds go to Dawn or Ravi’s P.A.C.. Then I abruptly hung up the phone.[quote comment=”197889″]Dave you would have more credibility if you focused on the fact that if one immigrant community is targeted, and the folks who do it dont face any consequences, its sets a precedent for people to target ALL immigrant communities.forget the religion of the people who made the comments or the religion of the people against whom the comments were made. Stand up for ALL Immigrants and you will be more support from the community.[/quote]

  8. xyzpdq says:

    @davemakkar, the religion of the people you have a problem with is irrelevant. You’re credibility gets shot when you go anti-Semitic. By the way, Jon Corzine isn’t Jewish. He’s a Protestant Christian. Bhalla’s a creep, but it looks like you are, too.

  9. Litteredboken says:

    Interesting fund raiser. If Bhalli and Zimmer are looking to strengthen ties with Booker, i would imagine they are doubly excited now that Booker is getting all this national press because of the FB donation. It pays to be friends with people in power, when your friend is friends with the likes of Oprah and Zuckerberg gazzilionaires, and now isn’t Dawn Zimmer and her team just one degree of separation from these types?

    I don’t think it’s going far to assume that this team is ultimately interested in strengthening their/”Hoboken’s” access to Booker’s/Newark’s popularity and money. It’s no accident. All the pieces moving into place?

    I wonder where is this headed? And what are the PEOPLE of Hoboken going to get from this relationship?

    And yet we still want politicians running our lives. Huh…

  10. Litteredboken says:

    And btw, wouldn’t this make a FANTASTIC place to gather and protest Zimmer? Outside of Teak, with all the press there for Booker?

  11. 4th Ward Guardian says:

    Read this story and never forget how Ravi Bhalla operates his Pay 2 Play no-bid public contract law firm. What a joke seeing him lecture people last night on campaign finance reform. This is the real Ravi Bhalla. Judge him by his actions, not his words.

  12. oceanbloo says:

    This is beyond trivial, but I have to admit it has affected my impression of Bhalla in a negative way. I was holding the door open for some small children in a building, and he impatiently walked in front of them into the building (when he could have taken a different door – it was just easier for him to walk into a door being held by someone else).

    The action was so blatantly selfish and rude that I can’t shake it from my mind whenever I see him. Especially because he has a young child himself.

    If you’re a public figure, I think you need to be very conscious of the fact that certain acts can affect you both negatively and positively. And whatever empty words come out of your mouths will never cover up the actions in which you engage.

    • 4th Ward Guardian says:

      Not trivial at all. It’s a window into his soul.[quote comment=”202902″]This is beyond trivial, but I have to admit it has affected my impression of Bhalla in a negative way. I was holding the door open for some small children in a building, and he impatiently walked in front of them into the building (when he could have taken a different door – it was just easier for him to walk into a door being held by someone else).The action was so blatantly selfish and rude that I can’t shake it from my mind whenever I see him. Especially because he has a young child himself.If you’re a public figure, I think you need to be very conscious of the fact that certain acts can affect you both negatively and positively. And whatever empty words come out of your mouths will never cover up the actions in which you engage.[/quote]

Leave a Reply