Saturday, March 6, 2010

How To Motion Reform Without Really Trying

After being caught in a scheme so complex that the Bergen Record had to use a flowchart to diagram the many donors and recipients of campaign cash while still being ELEC compliant, the folks at Borough Hall are finally considering reforming existing laws.

So how does one make the motions to reform without seemingly intent on doing so?

1.  Post Public Notice on Borough Website seven hours before meeting (page 2, items 7 and 8);
2.  Advise non-committee members that they are precluded from voting, effectively dissuading them from attending;
3.  Ponder about so-claimed restrictive code on public contracts in Lavalette;
4.  Whine about the long, arduous and the complex process to get the final product just right;
5.  Spend a good portion of time on unrelated issues;
6.  Punt "real work" to the next meeting.

Yeah, let's hear from from all those contractors who have been "hurt" from giving generously to their favorite elected officials.  Looks like Lavalette taxpayers have already spoken here (page 1, column 3) and here (page 3, column 2). 

Excerpted from Citizen's Campaign Fact Sheet:

Q:  What about a person’s 1st amendment right to contribute?

A:  Our pay-to-play law is constitutional because municipalities have the power to set the conditions of contracts for professional services. In other words, this is not broad campaign finance reform, but public contract reform.

Q:  Why are only professional contracts included?
A:  Professional Service contracts are “no-bid” contracts. This means that municipalities can set their own standards for hiring professionals- like attorneys, engineers, and auditors. Contracts for such things as snow removal automatically go to the lowest bidder. A town doesn’t necessarily want the lowest bid professional, therefore the council has broad discretion.

Q:  How does pay-to-play impact public tax dollars?
A:  It boosts costs to taxpayers by limiting competition and enabling the favored contractors to pad their charges to cover their political expenditures. It's corrupt and it should be outlawed.

Q:  What towns have passed pay-to-play reform?
A:  As of October, 2007, about 60 municipalities & three counties have adopted the model ordinance, they are: Asbury Park, Atlantic County, Atlantic Highlands, Belmar, Berkeley Twp, Bradley Beach, Cherry Hill, Collingswood, Dover Twp, East Greenwich, East Windsor, Edison Twp, Emerson, Ewing, Evesham, Fair Lawn, Freehold Twp, Hamilton, Hasbrouck Hts, Hightstown, Highland Park, Hillsdale, Hoboken, Holmdel Twp, Hopewell Twp, Lawrence Twp, Lavallette, Manchester, Margate, Marlboro, Mercer County, Metuchen, Millstone Twp, Monmouth County, Monroe (Middlesex), Montgomery, New Providence, Newark, Ocean City, Oceanport, Oradell, Pennington, Ramsey, Red Bank, Ringwood, Saddle River, Sayreville, South Brunswick, Spring Lake, Teaneck, Tinton Falls, Trenton, Upper Freehold, Washington Twp (Mercer), West Milford, Washington (Gloucester), West Windsor, Woodbridge.

Q:  Should towns wait for Comprehensive State legislation?

A:  No, Pay-to-play reform is a simple first-step to reducing the municipal portion of property taxes. A recent state law was passed, giving towns & counties the authority to control how professional service contracts are awarded. By passing this ordinance, contracts would be awarded on merit and cost-effectiveness, and the result is likely to be significantly lower costs.

Q:  By adopting pay-to-play reform, won’t individually wealthy people only be able to afford to run for office?
A:  In fact, pay-to-play provides an insurance policy for career politicians. Since incumbent politicians award the contracts, they get the overwhelming majority of pay-to-play dollars. These pay-to-play funded war chests discourage challengers and eliminate competition. 

Even worse, pay-to-play helps build the power of party bosses. Since county party organizations can take up to $35,000 annually from an individual contributor or business entity, they become the best conduit for contributions aimed at winning or maintaining government contracts. 

These dollars go overwhelmingly to the party who controls county government and allows them to maintain that control and stamp out any opposition. This is why county freeholder boards that used to have a mixture of Democrats and Republicans have moved to nearly all Democratic or all Republican.

Eliminating pay-to-play will help level the playing field and restore competition to elections at all levels of government. It will reduce the advantage that incumbent politicians currently have in fund raising over potential challengers.

Further, ending pay-to-play may motivate some candidates to adopt new techniques for fund raising such as the very successful Internet fund raising from small-and medium sized donors pioneered by Howard Dean and used with tremendous results by Sen. Kerry and President Bush.

While candidates for state, county and local office cannot hope to duplicate the results of a presidential candidate, there is still much untapped potential in this approach.

Q:  Who wrote this ordinance?
A:  Constitutional law experts from the Brennan Center for Justice and members of the Citizens’ Campaign Legal Task Force.

To sum it up, if the reformers are to maintain their credibility, they need to:

1.  Show up (you know who you are, we see you);
2.  Remove your bluetooth headset - do you really need to take that call during the meeting?
3.  Pass ordinance by May 10, 2010 (29 day pre-election report, Primary Election, ELEC reporting).

Stop stalling, you have 60 days.  This is far from rocket science, folks.