Politickernj writers Darryl Isherwood and Max Pizarro posted an in depth piece yesterday afternoon that exposes an incestuous web of influence driving planning, zoning and development approvals before the Middlesex County Freeholder Board and several municipal planning boards in the county.
State Senator Bob Smith of Piscataway is the leader of the PACs that fund the campaigns of the Freeholders and municipal officials who approve the applications. The applicants are donors to the PACs. Smith is the applicants’ attorney.
It’s all legal. And no one would know about it if not for Harold Kane of Monroe Township painstakingly examining thousands of pages of ELEC reports to find out where all the Middlesex Democratic money was coming from and the good journalists at Politickernj and The Star Ledger following the money.
Smith, the Senator working the system, and Peter Barnes, the Assemblyman and Middlesex County Democratic Chairman who’s candidates benefit from the system, know the solution to this “craziness.” Barnes said that “any impetus to close the hole lies with the legislature.” Smith said, “There is a solution to the craziness we have now and that is publicly financed elections – or complete transparency. “In New Jersey, we have nothing but chaos. The state needs one set standard across the state.”
Where is their legislation? Smith and Barnes are both powerful members of the legislature. They obviously know how the work the system. They know how to fix it.
Sponsor the legislation gentlemen. Publicly financed elections won’t work. Complete transparency will.
Here’s a campaign finance system that would be transparent:
1) Remove all limits on campaign contributions.
2) Require that all candidates and campaigns disclose all contributions of any amount on a dedicated website within 24 hours of receipt.
3) Competing campaigns, good citizens like Kane, and good journalist will examine the donations and expose influence. Voters will decide if the influence is acceptable of not.
Correction: Peter Barnes, Jr, the Middlesex Democratic Chairman is no longer in the legislature. His son, Peter III is an Assemblyman.
Now there are two Barnes and a Smith who can advocate for legislation that creates complete transparency.
Posted: April 20th, 2012 | Author: Art Gallagher | Filed under: Campaign Contributions, Campaign Finance, ELEC, Middlesex County Democrats, NJ State Legislature | Tags: Assemblyman Peter Barnes, Darrly Isherwood, ELEC, Harold Kane, Max Pizarro, Middlesex County Democrats, Middlesex County PACs, PACS, Pay-to-play, Politickernj, Scandal, Senator Bob Smith, The Star Ledger | 12 Comments »
Marlboro and Neptune Township held school board elections yesterday. Of the 45,035 registered voters in the the two townships, 2,618 voted.
By far most of those voters were from Marlboro, where over 2000 people came out. In Neptune, less than 600 of aproximately 16,000 registered voters came out.
As of February 18, there was 24,926 registered voters in Marlboro and 15,865 in Neptune Township, according to Labels and Lists. The county website says there were 45, 035 eligible voters in yesterday’s election. Where those 4,244 new voters came from since February could be the subject of a future column. In the meantime GOP leaders should take note that someone seems to be having a voter registration drive in Democratic towns.
For now I’d like to speculate about why there was a close to normal 10% turnout in Marlboro while only 3% turned out in Neptune.
One obvious reason could be competition. In Marlboro, there were 7 candidates for 3 seats on the school board. In Neptune, the 3 seats were not contested.
A not so obvious reason could be campaign spending. In Marlboro one of the candidates, Bonniesue Rosenwald, mailed out a professionally produced post card late last week which included an endorsement from Mayor Jon Hornick. Rosenwald, an incumbent, squeaked out a third place finish by 13 votes to retain her seat.
Some in Marlboro were upset that Rosenwald and Hornick politicised a school board election. I say politicisation increases participation.
With the recent and perennial hubbub about campaign spending and pay to play, few of the critics of the pay to play/PAC/wheeling system are offering alternatives. No one is talking about the public service campaign spending provides.
If not for campaign signs littering our roadways and lawns and mail boxes filled with glossy advertisements few people would know when to interrupt their routines to vote.
With the arguable exception of presidential and gubernatorial elections, the media, local and national, does a horrible job of covering campaigns. The media looks as electioneering as a revenue source, not a story to be covered as if democracy depends upon it.
Current campaign finance laws thwart participation by limiting contributions and making the process more complicated. The process is so complicated that only the most motivated and self interested contribute. Recently, pundits at The Star Ledger, The Asbury Park Press and even the usually smarter than that InTheLobby criticised the John Wisniewski/Middlesex County PAC practices for violating the spirit of campaign finance laws. Hogwash. The complex system that reduces transparency is the spirit of our campaign finance laws.
If our leaders really want to reform the system, rather than give lip service to ethics while voting for a bill with “loopholes” intentionally written in, the would create a simple system with full and immediate disclosure required.
Posted: April 18th, 2012 | Author: Art Gallagher | Filed under: Campaign Contributions, Campaign Finance, Elections, Pay-to-play | Tags: Board of Education Elections, John Wisniewski, Marlboro, Middlesex County PACs, Neptune Township, PACS, Pay-to-play | 8 Comments »
Over the holiday weekend Politickernj and The Star Ledger caught up with the good work that MMM contributor Harold Kane did last September in shedding light on political spending in Middlesex County.
Like Kane, Politikernj and The Star Ledger framed their articles as if the PACs set up to funnel campaign donations from engineers, lawyers and their firms to political campaigns were doing something scandalous. Each of the articles acknowledges that the contributions are legal, yet they say that the donors “skirt” or “cloud” the law or that the contributors are “buying” the candidates that ultimately benefit from the contributions.
The real scandal is that campaign finance laws at every level of government, federal, state, county and local, that are ostensibly designed to eliminate the influence of money in our political system and to increase transparency actually have the opposite effect, by design.
Money is like air and water. Set up a structure to restrict it and money, like air and water, will find a crack in the structure to get to where it wants to go. With enough pressure the structure breaks. Fix or reform the structure and the cycle repeats itself.
Our campaign finance laws decrease transparency in the process. Kane and the reporters from Politickernj and The Star Ledger spent many unproductive hours combing through ELEC reports of campaigns and PACS to connect the dots. Not many people have the time or resources to make that effort. Kane, Politickernj and The Star Ledger reporters did us all a service by connecting those dots. It is appropriate for the public to know who is financing the campaigns of their candidates for public office.
Restricting the amount of money that a person or entity can contribute to a campaign is inappropriate. Such restrictions are impediments to free speech and push otherwise well meaning people out of the political process or into breaking ill conceived and complex laws. Such restrictions don’t and won’t keep “bad money” out of the process.
The only way to increase transparency in the process is to require immediate disclosure of campaign contributions. Removing the limits that candidates and campaigns can accept would reduce the utility of PAC, Super PACs, etc.
Creating a simple system of full disclosure would increase participation in the political process. It would increase competition among government contractors and professionals. It would make the entire process more democratic, which is probably why we won’t see such a simple system anytime soon, if ever.
Posted: April 9th, 2012 | Author: Art Gallagher | Filed under: Campaign Contributions | Tags: Campaign finance laws, Harold Kane, Harold V. Kane, Middlesex County, PACS, Pay-to-play, Politickernj, Super PACs, The Star Ledger | 3 Comments »