Tag Archive: pay-to-play

FridayNite Data Dump- Samson Client windfall

The Bergen County Party Alan Marcus propganda machine, the Bergen Evening Record, just quietly released a must-read article, they felt oblgiated to do, which calls for 1) Jets/Giants ticketholders to take local NJ Transit buses to Sunday games (LOL) 2) calls for NJ Transit NOT to spend money on NJ Commuters, but to spend milliions on Wolf Samson client Triple Five to get people to their mall, kosher food court and urban water park 3) Call on NJ Trunpike Authority to spend even more capital money so Bergen GOP Party Boss Alan Marcus top lobbyist client Triple Five doesnt have to spend millions which it is obligated to do.

Seriously, this is a real scam. Its clear things are moving fast, since everything is closing down on Samson/Chrisitie’s enterprise… and when things move fast, things go wrong…. Its time for a full blown 100% investigation into the BCIA Bergen County Improvement Authority financiing NOW. There are milllions and millions of tax dollars here.


Quacks in the GOP Armor

Burlington County government has, for a long time, been a sandbox in which Republicans play with taxpayer money. The GOP has controlled the Freeholder Board and other county-wide elective offices for a long time.

Last year, two Democrats won seats on the five-member Freeholder Board. While that’s not as good as majority control, the two Democratic women are trying to put the brakes on some of the GOP’s practices.

Earlier this month, the Freeholder Board approved (by a 3-2 party line vote) a quarter-million dollar contract award to an engineering firm for oversight on a capital construction project. The award was made without competitive bidding.

When questioned by the Democrats at the time of the vote, the Republican Freeholder Director stated that the company that received the award was on an approved bidder’s list and that no competitive bid was necessary.

This answer riled several county taxpayers. Especially since the company that received the contract had made large campaign contributions to Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly, who was re-elected last month. The same company also made large contributions to other Republicans running in county-wide races. The taxpayers spoke at the December 11 meeting. In response to questions, Donnelly and his county engineer revealed that there were approximately ten companies on the approved bidder’s list. When asked whether the other approved companies were solicited for bids, the answer was no. It was stated that the company selected (the one that had made big contributions to the GOP) was the best qualified. Yet, the Freeholder Director and his County Engineer were unable or unwilling to specify the evaluation criteria and scoring system that was used to justify this sole-source bid. Incredibly, when Donnelly was asked about the large contribution to his re-election campaign, his response was “I have no knowledge of that.”

The County Solicitor informed the audience that all required state and local ordinances were complied with in the selection of the winning contractor. Donnelly closed the discussion by stating that if we are unhappy with the current pay-to-play laws, we should lobby the Democrat (sic) controlled legislature to change them.

Maybe the letter of the law was followed. Maybe Donnelly is unaware of who contributes to his campaign. But this sure looks, smells, and quacks like a duck.

Remembering a friend and progressive

promoted by Rosi – I also admired Paul Eisenman

Just a short diary as anyone who has been involved in Bergen County (or probably north Jersey) politics has come across Paul Eisenman at one time or another.  I found out late Sunday night that Paul passed away earlier that day, and although I probably hadn’t seen him in a year or so, I considered him a friend and someone to look up to.

Paul is probably best known for either Bergen Grassroots, which I believe was the chapter up here for Democracy for America – or his tireless work to bring pay-to-play reform to Bergen County.  The stain on the County from the pay-to-play politics had Paul seek out those in either party who would end this practice in Bergen.  His passion – even when I first met him when he was close to 80 years old – was something to admire.  His charisma drew me in as we worked on a few District wide issues over a 3-4 year period and I will always remember him fondly.

There is a lot more that can be said about Paul, but I’ll leave it at that – he was a man that I knew for a few short years, but he taught me a lot during that time and was a pleasure to talk to, learn from and be around.

He will most certainly be missed.

Angry Birdsall Saga – Execs buy influence in Hamilton

Dear Fellow Democrats,

By now I expect you are aware that the former Mercer County Republican Chairman, Phil Angarone Jr. has pled guilty to a host of corruption offenses in Ocean County in connection with illegal campaign contributions made on behalf of the Birdsall Engineering Group. What you may not know is that this same firm has done over $275,000 in business with Hamilton Township (Mercer County) and that there is a very real probability that Mr. Angarone engaged in the same types of corrupt behaviors here that he has pled guilty to in Ocean.

For many months, I have been tracking the Birdsall saga and as each rock is turned over there are more and more squirmy dealings that indicate a culture of corruption that permeates Hamilton Township government. The corruption of a Mayor and his key aides was abetted by the witting, or unwitting, complicity of a Council that was unwilling to look beyond the party label to identify and prevent the selling of our government to an ongoing criminal enterprise.

Under the administration of convicted Ex-Mayor John Bencivengo, Birdsall Engineering Group has been the beneficiary of $276,235 in non-bid professional services contracts. That total includes four change orders that increased the original value of the contracts by 35% or $71,266. During that same time, the Birdsall Group has been featured in multiple premium full-page ads on behalf of the Mayor’s annual ball fundraiser (Gold Pages) which were priced in the thousands of dollars. Despite the placement of the ads in Birdsall’s name, no reporting of contributions from Birdsall or any of its identified principles has been made to ELEC that would account for the ads. I should also note that no other contractor has received change orders of this magnitude.

The presence of the annual ads on behalf of Birdsall in the mayor’s ad books would indicate that large sums of money were being provided to the election fund of the mayor and the local Republican Committee without their true source being revealed in reports to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission or in documents required by the Township to certify that no play to play violations are associated with a contract. Further, were such contributions to be reported, they would constitute a violation of the Township’s pay to play ordinance. As it is, the hiding of the contributions through the use of “straw donors” as admitted to by Mr. Angarone, is illegal by itself.

The members of Council have asserted that Birdsall’s contracts were granted on the basis of open and competitive bidding. That is untrue. Although they did issue Requests for Proposals, these were not advertised beyond the township web site and, in some cases, they approached select contractors and invited them to provide quotes. The bids are not competitive in the true sense of the word in that they are not sealed, nor are they opened at the same time in an open public bid opening session. This is legal, but amounts to little more than putting a wig on a turd and calling it a prom date. It is absurdly easy to manipulate that process in order to route contracts to a favored contractor, especially if one is willing to go outside the law as Birdsall employees have admitted doing.

In the case of Birdsall, it wouldn’t matter if the initial process was fair. They secured substantial additional revenues through the use of uncontested change orders to the original contracts that were granted by Council without discussion and often as part of their Consent Agenda. These change orders were not part of any bidding process.  It is telling that even after the story has broken about Mr. Angarone and Birdsall’s illegal activities in Ocean County, two members of the all-Republican Council voted this week to give another contract to Birdsall.

Under the administration of former Mayor Bencivengo, Birdsall has profited greatly with little or no oversight. Although they obtained several small contracts prior to the Mayor taking office, it was his election that led to an explosion in the level of business for the firm. From 2008 through 2011 the firm was granted 8 contracts. All but one of these contracts was approved on the Council’s consent agenda with virtually no discussion. In addition, four of these contracts were subsequently the subject of massive upward change orders totaling $71,266. All of these change orders were passed as part of consent agendas with no discussion recorded in the Council minutes. All of them, of course, were no-bid professional services contracts.

Remember that the current Council, as well as the new Mayor, has been part of these decisions.

Further, Hamilton’s pay to play ordinance prohibits firms that have no-bid professional services contracts with the municipality not only from donating to campaigns, it also prohibits them from soliciting contributions from others, Phillip Angarone Jr., was listed variously as Event Co-Chair and Ad Book Chair for a series of Mayor’s Ball ad books from 2008 through 2011. In that role he was the key player in fundraising for the Mayor’s balls that have netted hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Mayor and the Republican Municipal Committee.

Based on this information, I have sent a letter to the NJ Attorney General requesting that the state broaden its investigation of Birdsall and Mr. Angarone to include probable criminal activities in Hamilton Township as well. I have provided him with a list of the contracts and change orders in question and I have offered to provide copies of the ad books which include the unreported Birdsall ads.

I have also cc’d this letter to Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini and to the Executive Director of the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Ethics Reform Trapped in Nowhere Land

Stranded in unknown surroundings

In a place where time has no meaning.

Cant seem to find my way out of here.

Trapped in a nowhere land.

         Manticora: Nowhere Land

Governor Christie has just re-mounted his high horse of ethics reform. His focus has long been elsewhere so his sudden concern appears self-serving and hypocritical. Nonetheless, there are specific bills for important ethics reforms languishing in the legislature’s “nowhere land.”

At this moment it is not up to Christie but up to the legislators to move the bills into committee where some need further strengthening and clarification, and then onto the floor. Many legislators quickly become conflicted and inattentive when ethics bills may negatively affect them or their donors. Other legislators seem more open. Lets not be cock-eyed optimists, but stranger things have happened when people set aside self-interest and act for the broader public good.

Many of the bills are sponsored by Republicans, but the issues are significant for both parties and impact all constituents. Democrats have the ability to make needed modifications. Here are a few of the bills which can’t seem to find their way out.

  • Uniform Public Contracting Standards (Pay-To-Play) – S2320. Introduced on October 7 2010. A provision which allows continuation of the “fair and open” rule for contracts less than $17,500 should be removed as it perpetuates pay to play at this lower amount.

  • Pension Forfeiture for Convicted Public Officials – A1765. Introduced on January 12 2010.    

  • Ban on Dual Office Holding and Dual Public Employment – A2556. Introduced on March 16 2010.

  • Ban on campaign contributions between county party committees – A275. Introduced on January 12 2010

  • Annual Financial Disclosure Statement – A2768. Governor Christie  used a conditional veto because the bill did not require such disclosure from State legislators – a reasonable request.

    Ethics reform should not be stranded in nowhere land. Let’s get these bills debated, revised and enacted.  

  • Bergen County Pay-To-Play Marching Band

    When I was a young boy,

    My father took me into the city

    To see a marching band…

    He said “Will you defeat them,

    The plans that they have made?”

    My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade

    Last week six of the seven Bergen County Freeholders, both Democrats and Republicans, joined the band. You marched in unison to the Pay-To-Play music – to “the disappointed faces of your peers.” Paul Eisenman, Director of Bergen Grassroots (a progressive political organization aligned with Democracy for America), said, “It’s depressing to find elected officials from both parties conspiring to deprive the public of real pay-to-play reform.”

    The hoped for sea change last November with voters throwing out Democrats and placing a majority of Republicans on the BC Board has produced only more of the same. On September 7 six freeholders voted during a first of three readings to support a plan that provides minor improvements but continues the so-called “fair and open process” which is so vague that it perpetuates pay-to-play – particularly among moneyed professionals. Heather Taylor of the Citizens Campaign, which also advocates for campaign finance reform, points out “Business entities will be able to give up to the current limit, which is $37,000 – that’s per year to a county party. That would be continuing business as usual.” State law permits the “fair and open process” loophole, but it should be ended. With no sign of legislators rescinding it, the simplest method of stopping pay-to-play in county and municipal government is to adopt the Citizens Campaign model ordinance for public contracting.

    Without citizen activists quickly contacting their freeholders the answer to the question posed in the lyrics, “Will you defeat them, The plans that they have made?” is an emphatic NO! And this Band will continue marching to the tune of those who seek government business by making large donations, in concert with the politicians who acquiesce and wallow in the spoils.  

    Latest money numbers from Democrats and Republicans

    The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) has just released the fundraising numbers for county parties:

    With legislative campaigns looming this fall, county party committees jointly have $1.0 million in reserve after raising nearly $1.1 million during the first three months of 2011, according to quarterly reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

    Reports show Democrats outraised Republicans during the quarter, but GOP committees reported a higher net worth, meaning cash-on-hand adjusted for debts owed to or by the committee. Numbers should be treated as preliminary because four county party committees had yet to file reports through 5 p.m. Friday, April 29.

    Between the two parties over a million dollars were spent in the last three months. The Republican but especially the Democratic numbers are way down compared to 2007: Recession? Tougher pay-to-play laws? No Jon Corzine?  

    You can review reports at ELEC’s website.  

    Shadow Armies Eviscerate Campaign Disclosure and Pay-To-Play Rules

    “With every election cycle comes a shadow army of benignly titled nonprofit groups – fronts for a coterie of political operatives, devised to sidestep campaign disclosure rules.” – NYTimes (09/24/2010)

    New Jersey has at least two such Republican shadow groups: Reform Jersey Now, which says it ceased its operations after raising $624,000, and The Center for a Better New Jersey which is still operating.  Both hew close to Governor Christie’s agenda, and the latter seems most active in influencing a favorable Republican outcome in the current redistricting process. Both groups gain the advantage of not having  to disclose their donors while they operate  at the margins of two IRS requirements and wreak havoc on our pay-to-play laws.

    more below

    QoTD: Christie Bum’s Rush Edition

    Today’s Quote of the Day comes via Senator Loretta Weinberg, and it took a day or so to sink in, how cheeky it is. We’re glad we’ve got a senator way up in the 37th District who rides it right up to the Governor’s door. As her first year with us closes, we’re also glad she’s part of the Blue Jersey community, too. Here’s LW, as quoted by The Record’s Charles Stile, after Gov. Christie disparaged her work to reform pay-to-play rules, an effort she invited him to collaborate in, but he never returned her calls or any of her efforts to include him. Stile’s last line is her quote:

    Despite the sharp words, Weinberg said she would be willing to discuss the matter with Christie privately, “as long as I have a chance to answer before I’m escorted out.”

    Bringing “Advocacy Groups” Out of the Shadows

    Promoted by Jason Springer: We’ve written plenty about Christie’s Slush Fund, Reform Jersey Now. Senator Buono tells us more about the approach they are taking in the Legislature.

    By now, we are all aware of the “advocacy organization” Reform Jersey Now.

    Operating in the shadows, this group is raising unlimited sums of money to advocate in support of Governor Chris Christie’s policies and agenda. That’s because 501(c)4 organizations like Reform Jersey Now are not subject to campaign disclosure requirements, pay-to-play rules or contribution limitations. This is a clear loophole in our campaign finance laws. And we must close it.

    Reform Jersey Now needs to live up to a higher ethical standard. Many of these so-called “issue groups” are simply political machines marching under a different name and to a different set of laws. Allowing this disparity to continue would only render our campaign finance and pay-to-play laws useless. It’s obvious that this organization is operating under the radar. Except, of course, for those times when they send out invitations detailing how supporters can navigate around campaign finance limits to support Governor Christie.

    As Governor Christie is well aware from his days as US Attorney, New Jersey has an unfortunate history of corruption and high-dollar malfeasance. This checkered record costs our taxpayers their hard earned money and erodes confidence in our state government.  In these challenging economic times, when everyone is tightening their belts, we need to make sure every dollar is being spent wisely and within the intent of our campaign finance laws.