Camden auditor pick draws state comptroller's scrutiny

Posted: July 29, 2013

On May 30, Camden received bids from two South Jersey accounting firms for its annual municipal auditor contract.

Bowman & Company L.L.P., the city's auditor for at least 15 years, turned in a bid that day asking for a downward "adjusted" rate of $186,000, citing the city's financial difficulties.

Holman Frenia Allison P.C., of Medford, also placed a bid that day, for $185,400.

Then, on June 6, with the bids still being reviewed, "Redd for Mayor" - the reelection campaign of Camden Mayor Dana Redd - received $250 checks from nine Bowman partners, including the auditor who had signed the firm's bid.

A week later, six Bowman partners contributed $1,000 each to the Leaders Fund, a South Jersey political action committee that assists Democratic candidates, including for local offices.

Holman did not donate to the Redd campaign or the Leaders Fund, according to state campaign finance reports.

On July 9, City Council passed a resolution picking Bowman to audit the city's 2013 books. A final vote is set for Aug. 15.

The sequence of events, an apparent violation of pay-to-play rules that apply to local government contracts, has drawn the scrutiny of the state comptroller.

"Based on information you have provided to us, we are opening an inquiry into this matter," Pete McAleer, spokesman for the Office of the State Comptroller, said last week in response to questions from The Inquirer about the propriety of the contract.

Redd did not respond to requests for comment. A city spokesman said she played no role in the selection of Bowman.

An Inquirer review of campaign-finance reports filed with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission shows that in 2012 and this year, Voorhees-based Bowman donated to Camden City and county candidates or affiliated political committees just before or during the process of receiving public contracts.

Since at least 2006 - when professional-services groups that receive more than $50,000 annually in public contracts were required by state law to disclose campaign contributions - Bowman's partners have jointly donated $4,000 to $6,000 each year to the Leaders Fund.

'In compliance'

The fund is chaired by former Camden County Freeholder Scott M. Goldberg, according to a 2008 filing. Its treasurer is Gina Marie Santore, who has also worked for the Camden County Democratic Committee, and its attorney is William Tambussi, who represents the county Democratic committee and is also attorney for influential party leader George Norcross III. Norcross is part-owner of the company that owns The Inquirer.

Camden officials deny anything improper in selecting Bowman, saying campaign donations do not influence their professional-services decisions.

Bowman principal Thomas Biddle Jr. denied that campaign contributions help the firm acquire contracts, saying only that the donations are made in the "course of doing business." He did not elaborate.

When asked about the timing of this year's contributions, Biddle said the firm "makes sure we are in compliance" with local and state pay-to-play laws.

Camden's ordinance regulating public contracts states that any business submitting proposals for professional services may not make any contributions to a campaign committee - a term that covers local candidates, candidate committees, as well as political action committees - between "the time of first communication between the business entity and the city" about a contract and the completion of the contracted work.

Not involved

According to city spokesman Robert Corrales, the City Council's finance committee recommends an auditor to the full seven-member council after consulting the city finance director and business administrator. The mayor, he said, is not involved in the discussions or the eventual council vote.

City attorneys said Camden's pay-to-play ordinance did not apply in this instance because the city followed a state-permitted "fair and open" contract-bidding procedure - publicly advertising the contract for competitive bids.

Advocates of campaign-finance reform disagree.

"The purpose of adopting a strong local pay-to-play ordinance was to strengthen the fair and open process because it's so easily manipulated," said Heather Taylor, spokeswoman for the Citizens Campaign, a watchdog group that helped craft the model local pay-to-play ordinance many municipalities, including Camden, have adopted.

Camden adopted the ordinance in 2011 as a condition of receiving millions of dollars in aid from the state each year.

Pay-to-play loopholes have long frustrated some South Jersey residents, including Randy Pace, a Medford councilman who advocated in 2012 for the township to consider other auditing firms besides Bowman, which had also audited Medford for years.

"It was a no-brainer. They had to go," said Pace, who was an outspoken critic of Medford's no-bid contracts before he ran for office in 2011. "They were making campaign contributions in exchange for gaining contracts," he alleged.

In the process, he said, "you end up paying more for services than you need to."


Bowman was paid $62,708 for Medford's 2011 audit. The new firm, Holman, charged the township $35,208 in 2012.

"People get comfortable. It's too much work to sit down and interview" multiple firms before selecting an auditor, Pace said.

Camden City Council President Frank Moran sees it differently.

"It's a relationship we have" with Bowman, said Moran, who sits on the council's municipal-audit bid review committee. "It's not unusual for municipalities to retain the same auditor for several years. . . . It's a comfort zone."

Despite 2008 recommendations by the state comptroller's office that municipalities stop contracting with political donors and not hire the same auditing firm for more than 10 years straight, Camden records show that Bowman has remained its auditor for at least 15 years.

The 2008 report listed Bowman as having the largest number of government clients in the state and also as being the top political donor among auditors. The company and its employees donated $494,800 overall in 2006 and 2007, according to the comptroller's 2008 report.

In 2012, Bowman received $9.2 million in public contracts and reported $58,600 in political contributions for the year.

Holman has bid for Camden's auditing contract the last two years and lost both times. The firm's partners did not return calls for comment.

Where it comes to public contracts in New Jersey, Holman is not far behind Bowman. In 2012, it reported as having 112 contracts, compared with Bowman's reported 189. Holman also is a big political contributor in some South Jersey communities, specially in Burlington and Ocean Counties, where much of its work is done.

Moran and Corrales denied that political calculations influenced selection of the auditor. In previous years, Corrales said, Bowman did not have competition for the contract.

Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," on

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