Moorestown council looks to weaken pay-to-play law

Posted: August 18, 2013

Moorestown Township Council is considering an ordinance that would increase the political campaign-contributions threshold for businesses looking to contract with the township more than eight times the current amount.

The council is holding a public hearing Monday evening before voting on the proposed amendments to the township's pay-to-play ordinance. The current law and suggested changes have been criticized by campaign-finance-reform advocate the Citizens Campaign.

The ordinance, if passed, would increase the amount a business entity could donate from $300 in the year preceding a given contract to $2,600. It would also increase the maximum amount allowed to be donated to Moorestown Township party committees or to any political action committee (PAC) to $7,200, up from $300 and $500 respectively.

Moorestown Mayor Stacey Jordan did not return calls Friday for comment.

New limits would be in line with the state's pay-to-play law, therefore avoiding confusion, the proposed ordinance states. It would also require all contributions, not just those above $300, to be disclosed.

But the statewide Citizens Campaign isn't buying the argument.

"They are restating state law, which everyone realizes is a sham law," said Citizens Campaign spokeswoman Heather Taylor.

The state's pay-to-play received scathing review from the New Jersey Comptroller's Office in a 2011 report, which outlined the many loopholes the system still has in place.

"A series of fatal flaws have essentially rendered New Jersey's Pay-to-Play law meaningless in the effort to prevent local governments from steering contracts to politically favored vendors," the comptroller's office stated in its report.

That same report was optimistic in the increase in municipalities and counties passing their own strong pay-to-play reform ordinances.

Moorestown passed its pay-to-play reform ordinance in 2008, but in 2009 made some amendments that the Citizens Campaign said weakened the law. Now, the ordinance is being amended again, which, Taylor said, "nullifies the whole purpose" of having a local pay-to-play law that was supposed to sever the link between campaign contributions and government contracts.

More than 100 municipalities have adopted their own laws that are stricter than the state law.

"The taxpayer is not worried about the $10 contribution. They are worried about the $5,000 contribution that they [Moorestown officials] are enabling," Taylor said about the township's ordinance. Currently, any contribution of $300 or more must be disclosed in campaign reports.

The Moorestown ordinance is scheduled to be heard for public comment at Monday's township council meeting to be held at 7:30 p.m. in the IT Room of Moorestown High School, 350 Bridgeboro Rd. The council could either put the measure up for a vote Monday or table it for future action.


Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," on www.inquirer.com/camdenflow.

|
|
|
|
|