Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pay-to-Play - APP - Editorial: Limited at last

Published in the Asbury Park Press, Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pay-to-play limited at last

Monmouth County's Board of Freeholders on Thursday effectively said to the state Legislature: OK, your turn. The freeholders unanimously passed pay-to-play restrictions and a curb on wheeling, outdoing the state's weaker reforms.

The freeholders did the right thing in backing the proposals from a committee that toiled for months to come up with measures that block the ability of contractors and other professionals to win lucrative public jobs by wooing politicians with hefty campaign donations.

Kate Mellina, a county chairwoman for the good-government group Citizens' Campaign, said the rules approved Thursday "set a standard for the state." We're glad to see Monmouth County join the many municipalities and one other county that are showing up the Legislature by passing stricter, more comprehensive, campaign finance reform measures. Political contributions from anyone seeking county work will now be capped at $300. To limit wheeling, candidates can't accept a contribution from another county's political party in excess of $2,600 per election.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature has failed to take the lead on pay-to-play, often saying they want to see what the counties and towns do first. That's a flimsy excuse. But one by one, towns and now counties are taking them up on it. We hope Monmouth County's actions will help shame Trenton's Democratic legislative leaders into doing the right thing, moving the strictest of the pay-to-play bills through the Statehouse and onto Gov. Corzine's desk.

Monmouth County's effort wasn't smooth — and should have been finished long ago. Some political shenanigans put a few forks in the road, including an effort in June to scuttle the work of the bipartisan committee in favor of weaker measures promoted by Republican leaders. But as one resident told the board Thursday, "at the end, you did the right thing. You showed some outstanding leadership."

Pay-to-play is a form of legal bribery where donations result in government contract prices that are inflated to cover the cost of those donations. That political game ultimately costs the taxpayers — a lot. Wheeling plays games with disclosure efforts as political contributions are made to out-of-county campaign funds, then wheeled back in to hide the identity of the original donor.

Monmouth County has tossed the ball back to Trenton. We'd like to see Ocean County get in the game, too, as well as the remaining municipalities that are still waiting for Trenton to act. There's no reason why that has to be an exercise in futility.

Link to online story. Archived here.

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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.