Pay-To-Play Reformers Go Right Into The Pit

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by Jerry DeMarco of CliffviewPilot.com

Go figure: Dumont, a snakepit of a town known best for political contributions leading to professional favors, is considering a strict pay-to-play law that would make it something of a pioneer in North Jersey — thanks to Citizens’ Campaign, a grass-roots group that so far, has attracted 5,000 participants who hope to stem corruption… which should, in turn, help curb property taxes.

“Our goal is to build a new culture of service from the local level up,”  Heather Taylor, one of the movers and shakers in the Metuchen-based grass-roots group, told the CliffviewPilot.com. “We do this by offering free online classes to empower citizens and free local model laws for citizens to present in to their town council.”

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The group actually began nearly a decade ago, after a firm with no prior experience in conducting auto emissions testing scored a $400 million dollar municipal contract, based largely on political contributions. The firm ended up costing the municipality $100 million on overruns — and got a group of concerned citizens thinking about changing public policy at the grass-roots level.

“The model pay-to-play reform law was designed to sever the link between political contributions and the awarding of government contracts,” Taylor explained.

“Specifically, the law limits donations from firms seeking no-bid contracts from contributing in excess of $2500 in the year prior to receiving a no bid contract. Firms which enter in a contract are banned from making contributions through the duration of the contract.

“The penalty for making a contribution in violation of the law is breach of contract. Attempts to circumvent the law, or “wheel” political contributions, could result in breach and a ban on future contracts for 4 years.

Dumont is a prime candidate for change. Local contractors have made large campaign contributions to a variety of political committees in the town and statewide — and have, in return, received government work.

“Absent state regulations, this is perfectly legal, but [it] raises concerns among the public,” Taylor said.

Last week, the Ctizens Committee teamed up with the Bergen Grassroots group to give the Dumont Council a copy of its model ordinance.

Council members, in turn, dropped it onto an “Ordinance Subcommittee” for review.

Taylor said she and Paul Eisenman of Bergen Grassroots met with the subcommittee, whose members are “committed to passing an ordinance, and in a timely fashion,” she said.

Still, although the constitutionally solid model has a proven track record, concerns arose that the council might lean toward a weaker pay-to-play ordinance that carves out exemptions or provides for large campaign contributions.

If Dumont adopts the proven plan, it’ll make nearly six dozen local towns in New Jersey with strong anti pay-to-play laws, in addition to what’s considered the strongest state-level law in the nation.

Before you get too excited, be mindful: Taylor says committee members in Dumont haven’t reported back yet.


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