Evesham squabble over campaign finance

Posted: July 06, 2009

The invitation last month for a party celebrating the recent return of Republican rule to Evesham featured this request: Contributions to campaign funds and political action committees should not exceed $300.

At that amount, under New Jersey law, donors do not have to be identified. It also is the maximum an individual or firm can give before being disqualified from receiving a public contract under an Evesham ordinance that restricts what is called "pay-to-play," or trading campaign cash for government business.

Democrats contend that invitation and other measures suggest the three new Republican council members circumvented campaign-finance rules. Democrat Michael Schmidt, a first-term councilman who was defeated in the May 12 election, filed a complaint with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission last month.

The complaint asks for an investigation into campaign activities of newly elected GOP council members Kurt Croft, Joe Howarth, and Debbie Hackman. They won in a landslide against Schmidt and fellow Democrats Alicia Marrone and Jill Whipple.

Howarth called the accusation purely political, and an effort to overshadow a victory accomplished by hard work. Donors were directed to contribute under $300 so they would adhere to regulations, he said. "Everybody," Howarth said, "is in compliance with the law."

Schmidt contends the winning candidates circumvented contribution limits by directing money to various political entities, some of which he said barely had been set up before receiving checks. The request to cap donations at $300 was a way to sidestep the pay-to-play ordinance, Schmidt maintained, saying that contributors could exceed that amount by donating to multiple PACs.

At the Wednesday night reorganization meeting, the Republican majority voted to appoint as the new solicitor Tony Drollas and as the new bond counsel Brian Kowalski, both of the law firm Capehart Scatchard, where Burlington County's behind-the-scenes GOP power broker Glenn Paulsen is partner.

Firms must submit a sworn statement that they have not made contributions in violation of the pay-to-play ban before they enter into a municipal contract.

Contact staff writer Maya Rao at 956-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com.

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