Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pay-to-Play - Courier Post - County party committees an issue

Published in the Courier-Post, Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pay-to-play reform unsettled

Courier-Post Staff


Borough commissioners gave preliminary approval to two pay-to-play reform measures Monday, but the vote didn't end a dispute over the best way to limit political contributions.

An activists' group that held a successful petition drive to place an alternate measure on the November ballot said it was not prepared to withdraw its proposal.

"Our initial reaction is that we're disappointed," said resident Kevin Madden, a member of the petition group.

"We're going to review the ordinance and make a decision (on whether to withdraw) this week."

Both sides would limit contributions to local candidates by professionals, such as engineers and architects, who might later seek contracts with the borough.

But they split over how to handle professionals' contributions to county-level political committees.

The activists' measure -- a model ordinance created by a Middlesex County nonprofit and adopted by 40 municipalities -- would bar professionals from borough contracts if they give more than $500 a year to a county-level political organization.

"Collingswood is enmeshed in a county political system," said Madden.

But Mayor M. James Maley Jr. said that language would force the borough to replace professionals who have brought "substantial success to the borough over the past 10 years."

The commissioners' measure instead would allow county organizations to donate only $500 a year to local candidates or their committees.

"Our measure actually strengthens this," said Maley, noting the activists' proposal would not limit the flow of funds from county organizations.

"To us, there's no connection between someone making contributions to the county and doing work with Collingswood," he added.

But Madden said he believed professionals could be found who did not make political contributions.

The measure will stay on the ballot if the activists' group, called the Committee of Five, does not withdraw it within 10 days, Commissioner Michael Hall said Monday.

That decision would require approval by four of the committee's five members, said activist Eleanor Vine.

She noted more than 600 borough residents signed a petition in support of the ordinance. If the ordinance were to be withdrawn at Monday's meeting, she said, "the voters of Collingswood would be bypassed, losing their voice on this important issue."
The borough commission will hold a second reading on its proposed pay-to-play ordinance Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Community Center, 30 W. Collings Ave.
Reach Jim Walsh at (856) 486-2646 or

PT asks: Why not both restrictions?

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.