Reform in Gloucester
Freeholder lists contractors' campaign donations
Gloucester County's Raymond Zane 2d want to curb what such firms can give. A colleague called it a political move.
By Kaitlin Gurney
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
WOODBURY - A Gloucester County freeholder yesterday called for an end to the "pay to play" system that he says rules local government, releasing the names of firms that have received county contracts - along with a list of how much money those firms donated to campaigns.
Freeholder Raymond Zane 2d began advocating campaign-finance reform in March, when he proposed sharply limiting the amount of money that government contractors could donate to campaigns. His proposal was dismissed at a meeting of the all-Democrat freeholder board because it contradicted state statutes.
Zane then wrote a letter to the county treasurer and each of the county's autonomous agencies, requesting the dollar amount of all contracts awarded to some of the most generous Democratic contributors in 1999 and 2000. He released his findings yesterday.
Thirty-two firms - largely those of lawyers, accountants, insurers or engineers - received $11.5 million in county contracts during those two years, according to Zane. The same firms donated $566,215 to the Gloucester County Democratic Executive Committee, according to numbers Zane compiled from state Election Law Enforcement Commission documents.
Last year, three candidates were elected to the seven-member freeholder board in a campaign that broke local fund-raising records, and "in an election where you raise $1.3 million for three $17,500 freeholder jobs, there is something wrong," Zane said yesterday. "When 99 percent of those contributions were raised from companies the county does business with, there is something wrong."
Freeholder Warren Wallace questioned the motivation - and the timing - of Zane's announcement. Zane's father, Republican State Sen. Raymond Zane, is battling Stephen Sweeney, the freeholder director, for the Third District Senate seat.
"I can only assume [Zane's] motivation for this is political," said Wallace, adding that he was not convinced that Zane's figures were accurate.
"If he really wants to address campaign-finance reform, he should talk to his father. This has to be done at the state level," Wallace said.
Sweeney was not available for comment yesterday.
While the state requires that most government projects be publicly bid, professional work is exempt, said Harry Pozycki, chairman of New Jersey Common Cause.
According to Zane, the engineering firm JCA Associates of Moorestown received $1.1 million in county contracts and donated $66,500. JCA representatives did not return calls for comment.
The Dalton Insurance Agency of Glassboro received $4.5 million in county contracts and donated $28,515, Zane's numbers show. Employee Dan Dalton, who is Sweeney's campaign chairman, did not return calls.
Petroni & Associates, a Glassboro auditing firm, received $198,105 for county work and donated $13,050, according to Zane. Auditor Nick Petroni did not return calls for comment.
Lawyer Colleen Maier received $147,169 in county work and donated $12,500, while lawyer Sam Leone received $99,450 and donated $12,500, according to Zane. Neither returned calls.
New Jersey Common Cause has been working with Gloucester County counsel to enact a ban on political fund-raising in any county administrative office and on the use of county equipment for political purposes, Pozycki said.
Freeholder Zane said he intended to introduce revised campaign-finance legislation this month.
Kaitlin Gurney's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Tuesday, February 20, 2001
Freeholder fight has potential
By Erika Hobbs
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
WOODBURY - A fight between a Gloucester County leader with higher political aspirations and a fellow freeholder whose father holds a coveted legislative seat could inadvertently overhaul the way campaigns are financed in New Jersey.
Rival freeholders Stephen Sweeney and Raymond J. Zane 2d are sparring over how to regulate the county and state campaign finance system. Sweeney endorses state-set limits on spending. But Zane aims for a severe approach that would limit both fund-raising and spending, revamp the way the county government awards certain contracts, and, ultimately, undercut Sweeney's fund-raising abilities.
The issue of campaign finance reform is hardly new. But activists say the issue has reappeared on New Jersey's radar screen for several reasons: Jon S. Corzine's controversial $63 million senatorial campaign; Arizona Sen. John McCain's renewed quest to ban unregulated, unlimited contributions to political parties; and recent federal court testimony that officials at United Gunite Corp. of Irvington, Essex County, bribed municipal officials across the state for lucrative contracts.
Sweeney, the Gloucester County freeholder director and a powerful fund-raiser, is expected to run for the Third District seat held by State Sen. Raymond J. Zane, Freeholder Zane's father, who is seeking reelection. All three men are Democrats.
Ultimately, the freeholders' proposal could be the springboard to rehabilitate the state's framework for fund-raising, even if a movement erupts for the wrong reasons, campaign finance reform activists said.
"This is not merely a political kind of thing," said Harry Pozycki, chairman of the statewide branch of Common Cause, a watchdog group, based in Metuchen, Middlesex County. "There is a systemic breakdown of the entire campaign finance process that we may now be able to address."
This year, a group of activists - Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and New Jersey Public Interest Research Group - is courting state legislators to endorse an extensive reform package crafted by the group.
Several area leaders, including Sen. Zane and Republican Sen. John Matheussen of Turnersville, said they would endorse comprehensive legislation and may back the group's proposal.
"The system is out of control, and I would endorse reform legislation in a heartbeat," Sen. Zane said.
At best, the freeholders could emerge from the fray as visionaries. Or, the political jousting could dismantle the very system that keeps parties in power.
At issue in the county - and across the state - is the practice of exchanging campaign contributions for government contracts, a process commonly called "pay-to-play."
Usually, contractors - from architects to engineers - give to campaigns as a way of leaving a type of calling card with the parties who control government. Often, these donors later receive government work. At times, an arrangement is made as a quid pro quo - or donations traded for contracts. As the cost of elections rises, the system creates the potential for candidates to amass huge coffers of cash.
"Officials can be honest and have the best intentions, but if they want to get elected or reelected . . . they have to spend the bulk of their time raising money, and if they want to raise it with any kind of effectiveness, they have to go to county contractors," Pozycki said.
In a move designed to thwart Sweeney's early fund-raising, the younger Zane tried to introduce a last-minute resolution earlier this month that asked parties to voluntarily curb what county contractors and employees could donate to campaigns. The Gloucester County Democratic Party, which controls all seven freeholder seats, broke local fund-raising records after it collected $1.3 million in contributions in the last election cycle.
His resolution was not heard that night because of a procedural error and was dismissed at a second meeting because of constitutional and state statute contradictions.
However, Freeholder Helene Reed, who is running for reelection this year, countered with an advisory resolution that mirrored one the board first approved in 1998. It urges the state to limit soft money - the unregulated funds given to political parties - and seeks a state prohibition on contributions from government contractors. State statute restricts county legislators from limiting many donations.
Only one state bill to limit campaign contributions was introduced last year. It has stalled in the legislative review in the Senate.
Sweeney, who has publicly called fund-raising "distasteful," opposes voluntary reform.
"I will make changes only after the state sets the limits," Sweeney said. "I want to level the playing field. Otherwise, it would be like fighting with one hand tied behind my back."
The freeholders, including Zane, endorsed Reed's resolution Wednesday. But Zane does not intend to end the fight there. He is expected to submit a revised resolution that could change the political landscape in Gloucester County.
An Inquirer review of 1999 campaign-finance reports from Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties showed that political parties and candidates together raised more than $4.6 million from donors who were identified in financial reports. Fifty-three percent of them were government contractors, government employees, unions, political committees and private individuals. At least 59 percent of the identified donations came from professionals - auditors, engineers, architects and lawyers - who under state law can receive government work without competitive bidding.
Some contractors, such as engineers and lawyers, do business directly with governments. Others, such as construction firms, rely on government officials for building permits or zoning approvals.
The financial reports show the symbiotic relationship between the parties in power and the contractors who do business with governments they control. The relationship helps the dominant political party maintain control.
Pozycki of Common Cause, a former Middlesex County Democratic Party chairman, explained how such a system works.
"There is an increasing pressure on officials to start huge capital projects to engage in massive borrowing to pay off contractors who donated to campaigns," he said, "because the big capital projects . . . involve numerous contracts, often professional contracts, that are exempt from competition whatsoever."
Zane said he would like to change those types of practices, and he is expected to pattern his plan after suggestions by groups like Pozycki's. It is not clear when he will introduce a new proposal.
He is expected to propose a ban on political solicitations in all county offices. Such a ban would eliminate the "suggestions that there may be influence in county government with respect to a contract that has been discussed," Pozycki said.
Zane's proposal may limit what government contractors can give to a campaign during the term of the contracts they hold. It also may call for the county to follow a competitive negotiation process for the professional contracts to abolish a sense of impropriety.
The momentum for campaign-finance reform should pick up next month, when Congress is expected to begin considering the McCain-Feingold bill.
And Pozycki said that the national mood and the results of Gloucester County's spat should cultivate substantial grassroots support to win over state legislators.
Even so, no one believes the cause will be won easily.
"It will be extremely difficult," the elder Zane said. "This won't happen overnight."
© 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc