It’s an open secret in New Jersey politics: if professional firms want to get profitable public contracts, they must make donations to the candidates who are going to give them out, competitive bidding be damned.
Public contracts in Jackson Township appear to be no exception to this longstanding rule. In the wake of OCP’s recent disclosure of Ocean County’s biggest campaign spenders for the previous calendar year, a concerned Jackson resident began to wonder what they might uncover if they were to take a look at the same types of reporting data for their township council candidates that were elected in 2012, and we’ve published those findings in full below.
An objective review of the correlation between campaign donations and receipt of public contracts can only lead us to conclude that there is a “quid-pro-quo” scheme afoot, and it’s not just happening here in Jackson.
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Quid-pro-quo, a Latin phrase, literally translates to “something for something.” In this case, campaign contributions are given with the understanding that the donor’s firm will be rewarded with a public contract. Despite New Jersey having strong pay-to-play laws on the books along with mandatory disclosure requirements, wily lawyers and accountants always seem to find a way around them, giving us the system of clientele politics present in the state to this day. Weaknesses in New Jersey’s pay-to-play laws have been well documented, such as in this report by the state comptroller’s office.
With many members of the state legislature being beneficiaries of the system as it is today, it’s no wonder that attempts to tighten pay-to-play laws have failed in the past. For them, the loyalty of politicians can be bought and sold while public entities are turned into the personal piggybanks of a select few.
The business model concocted through these loopholes has been the key to success for political bosses like Ocean County GOP chairman George Gilmore, who has successfully exploited public contracting in order to build up a warchest of campaign funds to maintain one party rule in the majority of Ocean County. It’s also the reason that professionals tend to be aligned with political parties.
Rather than competitively bidding for the lowest price and best qualifications, it’s par for the course that the only qualification to receive a public contract these days is whether or not the firm has sent a check to sponsor the campaign cocktail party.
$6.29 M In Contracts Given Away To GOP Professionals Since 2012
For the purpose of this analysis, we obtained data based on Open Public Records Act requests covering public contract expenditures in Jackson from the 4 year period following the election of Jackson Township councilmen Ken Bressi, Barry Calogero and Rob Nixon. Jackson – like every other town with a municipal utilities authority – has MUA commissioners appointed by the township council who then appoint professionals to work on behalf of the MUA, while members of the township council vote on contracts for the municipal government.
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In Jackson, the professional firms that have received lucrative public contracts all seem to have one thing in common: who they’ve donated to.
Is something wrong with this arrangement? You decide.