Pay-To-Play Is Alive And Well In Ocean County
They call them “the professionals.” They’re the law firms, architects, engineers and consultants that contract with local governments. Politicians are at their mercy for generous campaign contributions, which are all too often the price of admission to obtain oodles of profitable public contracts.
There could not be a better time to be a public contractor in New Jersey than right now, with the right connections of course. State officials say that public contractors reported their biggest annual increase in contracts received since 2006, despite making 15% fewer political campaign contributions on average in 2015. That’s some return on their investments in local politicians.
The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission released new data Thursday showing some of the state’s biggest campaign spenders.
Three major Ocean County contractors that shower local Republicans in contributions took the top three spots on the commission’s list of contractors that made the most contributions made to political campaigns in the state for the year 2015.
While not comprehensive (there’s just too much to list), here are some of the examples of contributions and contracts of these firms.
Remington & Vernick Engineers proudly takes the cake for making the highest number of campaign contributions out of any business entity in the state for 2015. They donated $474,100 to candidates, and in turn received boatloads of public contracts around the county and around the state.
In Ocean County, the Remington firm has earned the following from contracts:
- Bay Head – $105,693.00
- Berkeley Township – $1,386,511.00
- Jackson Township – $140,449.00
- Jackson MUA – $117,522.00
- Lacey MUA – $151,609.00
- Lakewood Township – $2,222,428.00
- Lakewood MUA – $138,820.00
- Lakehurst Borough – $75,463.00
- Little Egg Harbor MUA – $441,036.00
- Ocean County – $66,192.00
- Point Pleasant Borough – $500,349.00
- Seaside Park Borough – $334,467.00
- Stafford Township – $178,676.00
- Toms River Township – $410,853.00
- Toms River MUA – $113,089.00
Here are some of the politicians that got donations from the firm in 2015:
- Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella – $2,300
- “Citizens For Responsible Government” (GOP PAC) – $7,200
- Arthur Midgley and Edward Nuttall for Little Egg Harbor Township Committee – $600
- Gary Quinn & Tim McDonald for Lacey Township Committee – $1,000 in addition to $1,600 in primary campaign
- Ocean County Republican Chairman’s PAC – $7,200
- John Spodofora for Stafford Mayor – $2,500
- Senator Bob Singer – $2,400
- Wolfe & McGuckin for Assembly – $500
- Bartlett & Little For Ocean County Freeholder – $2,600
- Point Pleasant Republicans – $750
- Menashe Miller for Lakewood Mayor – $2,600
- Lichtenstein for Lakewood – $1,000
- Tom Kelaher For Toms River Mayor – $1,300
- Brian Kubiel for Toms River Council – $1,300
- Maurice “Mo” Hill for Toms River Council – $1,300
- George Wittmann for Toms River Council – $1,300
Coming in second place, with politicians nabbing $423,400 in contributions was engineering firm, CME Associates. CME’s accountants were clever enough to make their full disclosure report over 733 pages long, making it nearly insurmountable to get a complete look at who’s on the take, but here are some of the notable donations. The company earned $30,545,375.72 in public contracts last year.
They contributed to:
- Barnegat Township Republican Finance Committee $9500
- Brick Progress – $7000
- Senator Bob Singer – $4900
- Gary Quinn & Tim McDonald for Lacey Township Committee – $1800
The Barnegat Township Committee approved contracts with the firm totally over $458,000 as reported by the firm in the financial disclosure filed with ELEC.
They got contracts including:
- Barnegat Township – $458,000
- Brick MUA – $178,795.55
- Brick Township – $97,113.75
- Lacey Township – $115,254.75
- Stafford Township $201,614.12
Third was T&M Associates, a familiar face in many of our county’s municipalities. The Middletown-based company is working the public contract circuit from South Plainfield to Forked River. It has been at the center of issues such as the Berkeley Island Park closure and the yet to be resolved Lacey Township Rail Trail debacle, and for that they earned $37,261,931.00 in total contracts last year.
T&M spent $336,610.00 on campaign contributions, having given to these local candidates / groups:
- Ocean County Republican Chairman’s PAC – $7200
- NJ Citizens For Conservatism – $7200
- Shore Republican Finance Committee – $1800
- Senator Bob Singer – $1200
- Gary Quinn & Tim McDonald for Lacey Township Committee (primary and general) – $2800
- Daniel Collamer for Ocean Township (Waretown) Committee (primary and general) – $4,000
- Anthony DePaola for Berkeley Township Council – $500
- Republicans for Point Pleasant – $1250
- All Toms River GOP council candidates including Mayor Kelaher – $400 each
T&M received contracts in Ocean County including:
- Berkeley Township – $512,586.00
- Berkeley Sewerage Authority – $316,287.00
- Pine Beach Borough – $128,332.00
- Brick Township – $138,547.00
- Ocean County – $549,918.00
- OCUA – $57,522.00
- Ocean Township (Waretown) – $951,243.00
- Little Egg Harbor $847,128.00
- Point Pleasant Beach Borough – $617,007.00
- Jackson Township – $302,555.00
- Toms River Township – $136,229.00
- Toms River MUA – $107,852.00
Behind the top three were the following other companies, together making up just under a third of all contributions made statewide.
4. Alaimo Group – $324,750 in contributions
5. Pennoni Associates Inc. – $296,720 in contributions
6. Capehart Scatchard, PA – $196,875 in contributions
7. Adams Rehmann & Heggan Associates, Inc. – $152,705 in contributions
8. NW Capital Markets, Inc./NW Financial Group LLC- (Dennis Enright) – $138,900 in contributions
9. French & Parrello Associates, PA – $127,320 in contributions
10. Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, LLC – $119,787 in contributions.
Gov. Contractors Gave To Both Parties
This is not a problem just within in the local Republican establishment. It wouldn’t be fair to give them all the credit for this scheme. The same companies on this list are donating to both local Ocean County Republicans, and Democrats like Colin Bell in Atlantic County’s LD2.
Even Bernie Sanders’ NJ campaign chair John Wisniewksi got in on the action. The Wiz received multiple donations to his election fund from these professionals, several of which were over $1000. Vincent Prieto and Ray Lesniak were supported by the contractors as well.
Independent Groups Rising
Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director, said the decline in contributions in large part is the result of the state’s complex pay-to-play laws. “Many contractors are so afraid of violating the law that they have just stopped making political contributions entirely,” he said. “Contractor contributions have fallen in half since peaking in 2007.”
“Many contractor donations are now going to PACs and independent groups, which are not subject to pay-to-play.”
Groups such as the “Citizens for Responsible Government in NJ,” “Shore Republican Finance Committee,” and “NJ Citizens For Conservatism” have been on the rise in Ocean County, in line with this trend.