Hoboken Campaign Finance Battle Rages
POG Ordinance passes
This week the Hoboken City Council updated and strengthened the city’s anti-Pay-to-Play ordinance, which prohibits people seeking city contracts and developers who want redevelopment zone favors from making large donations to candidates for city office.
The updates were sponsored and vetted by People for Open Government and were supported unanimously by the council despite a last minute effort by Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her council allies to muddy the waters with a clause they admitted was aimed squarely at Council President Beth Mason.
Zimmer freely spent $130k in the past
…but wants to stop Mason from spending $13k
Although Zimmer had no problem putting $130,000 of her family’s money into her campaign to get Carol Marsh, David Mello and Ravi Bhalla elected the City Council, she does have a problem with the Mason family’s legal and reported $13,000 donation to Tim Occhipinti’s campaign. In an effort to muddy the political waters, Zimmer sought to have a clause that would attempt to supercede state law on campaign contribution levels into POG’s anti-Pay-to-Play ordinance. The obvious attempt to limit Mason’s ability to contribute while leaving the Zimmer’s considerable checkbook wide open led to concerns from both POG and members of the Council Majority.
Bhalla and Cunningham want a political circus
…but not real campaign finance reform
With the Mayor’s approval ratings at all-time lows and six seats on the council up for grabs in May, her allies want to talk about anything but their job performance. They also know Mason has built a statewide reputation on open government issues, and they want to taint her ahead of the election. Ravinder S. Bhalla on the other hand has built a statewide reputation via the Star Ledger for his Pay-to-Play activities and no-bid public contracts. While POG’s ordinance was approved, Zimmer’s politically motivated rider on the bill was rejected by a 5-4 vote.
After much posturing & whining from Bhalla, Mason made a statement regarding the debate.
The morning after, Zimmer and the political consultant she put on the public payroll for $75,000 a year went into overdrive. At best, Zimmer could simply be misinformed about what went on at the meeting, as well as the Campaign Finance laws of the state of New Jersey. At worst – she could be accused of lying and abuse of power. If you’re the type of person who believes your government always tells you the truth, don’t bother reading past the jump. If you want to be well informed, please continue…
What Zimmer sent out in an email blast to the world – and why it’s wrong – after the jump…
Deconstructing Inaccurate Zimmer Spin
Mayor Zimmer and City Minister of Misinformation/Political Consultant Juan Melli sent out a press release. Below you can see what it said, and the actual facts of the matter.
“Last night the “new majority” of the City Council cast their votes to oppose legislation that would have stopped the practice of wheeling which has corrupted Hoboken’s electoral process. Put simply, wheeling is the practice of laundering contributions through campaign committees to circumvent campaign finance or pay to play laws. The law sponsored by Councilman Cunningham was modeled on an ordinance passed four years ago in Atlantic County. Six other jurisdictions in New Jersey have followed Atlantic County’s lead, and the legality of Atlantic County’s statute has never been called into question in the almost four years that it has been in effect.”
FACT: Atlantic County prohibits candidates from taking money for Legislative Leadership PACs in Trenton. These are statewide PACs with huge amounts of money. The Atlantic County law does not place any restrictions on local campaign committees (like Beth Mason’s) contributing. Assemblyman Ruben Ramos sent the council a letter advising them that the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services stated Mayor Zimmer and the City Council do not have the authority to implement campaign contribution restrictions in the manner they have presented.
“The meeting was noteworthy not just due to this unfortunate and inexplicable vote, but due to the efforts of the Council President to stop Councilman Cunningham from even explaining the legislation to the public before it was voted down.”
FACT: Both Cunningham and Bhalla explained the legislation at the last City Council meeting. It’s not bad enough Melli has turned the taxpayer paid-for City Website into Dawn Zimmer’s Facebook page. Now he wants you to get your politically commentary on what was “noteworthy” about the meeting from City Hall as well.
“Not a single Councilperson opposing this legislation provided a substantive reason for their position. Instead two Council members, Council President Mason, and Council Vice President Russo attempted to distract the public’s attention from this critical issue by making malicious and false allegations against me. Councilman Russo asserted falsely that I had received a campaign contribution from County Executive Tom DeGise that I had “wheeled” to former Councilman Michael Lenz in the last election. This claim, which was also made on a Facebook page by a member of an editorial board of a local newspaper, is a figment of Mr. Russo’s imagination.”
FACT: Beth Mason gave a detailed explanation as to why she would not support the anti-wheeling legislation in its current form (see video above). Dawn Zimmer received a $500 campaign contribution from Tom DeGise’s campaign committee on September 20, 2010. On October 27, 2010 Zimmer’s campaign committee made a $508 contribution to Friends of Mike Lenz for City Council with Check #107. Lenz is a County Employee, which precludes DeGise from making a direct contribution to his campaign.
Nobody can know for sure if DeGise knew Zimmer was going to put that money into Lenz’s account, and to be fair Hoboken411 did not ask the County Executive for comment before publication. However, it was well known Zimmer was raising funds last fall specifically to turn around and dump those thousands of dollars into Lenz’s campaign. It is also well known that DeGise’s contributors included contractors and developers who do business in Hoboken. Zimmer should have known DeGise had legally raised funds from people who could not legally donate $500 to the Zimmer or Lenz campaigns under Hoboken’s anti-Pay-to-Play law. She took the DeGise money anyway, just like she took thousands more from DeGise and Jersey City Mayor Jerry Healy for her own city council elections.
“Councilwoman Mason falsely asserted that I had received “thousands of dollars” in campaign contributions from a committee that had received money from the government informant who bribed Peter Cammarano. This too is a malicious and untrue statement completely made up to divert attention from the real issues raised by the wheeling of money into Hoboken political campaigns.”
FACT: When Mayor Zimmer ran for City Council she promised not to take any contributions from the HCDO or candidates affiliated with the HCDO. Zimmer logged on to Hoboken411 under her own name and denied the county was getting involved with her campaign. She broke her word and took several thousands of dollars including $2,000 from Jersey City Mayor Healy’s candidate committee. That is the same committee which was later revealed to have accepted several thousands of dollars from Solomon Dwek – the same government informant who donated money to Peter Cammarano’s campaign through a straw donor.
Healy’s Deputy Mayor and campaign treasurer is currently sitting in federal prison after being convicted on corruption charges for her dealings with Dwek. Although Healy himself was not indicted he was visited by the FBI the day before massive arrests took place in the corruption sting and later appeared on an FBI video meeting with Dwek. The Healey-Zimmer contributions are public record.
“While Councilwoman Mason and Councilman Russo are fully aware that their allegations are untrue, the ironic thing is that if they were true, they would be compelling arguments for passing the anti-wheeling legislation, not for voting it down.”
FACT: Zimmer’s legislation does not place any restrictions on candidates from municipal office from accepting contributions from candidate committees located outside of Hoboken. Candidate committees like those of Healey, DeGise and powerful State Senator Ray Lesniak, who Zimmer gave a huge no-bid contract for city legal services. The restrictions only apply to political action committees and political parties. In fact, the ONLY restrictions on candidate committees applied to Mason’s candidate committee because it is largely self-funded.
“I ask all of the City Council members to reflect upon this very serious issue and move forward with this critical legislation which will ensure that Hoboken elections are decided by the people of Hoboken, not by developers, wealthy individuals, or political machines.”
FACT: Zimmer currently lists over $273,000 in self-contributions to her Mayoral campaign committee on her latest ELEC forms. She contributed over $130,000 to Marsh, Mello, and Bhalla in their Council-at-Large campaigns. During Lenz’s campaign he met with a developer prior to a vote on a zoning appeal and received a $1000 campaign contribution. Zimmer failed to address this in her release, and sadly the reporters and editors from local newspapers still haven’t gotten Zimmer on the record about her opinion of Lenz’s meeting with developers seeking variances in the back of a North Bergen diner. Developers Lenz secured variances for, and later received $1000 in campaign contributions from.
All information in this story about campaign contributions has been sourced from the New Jersey Election Law Commission website.
Hopefully this clears up some of the spin and hype.