Council approves amended pay-to-play ordinance
More than a dozen residents appeared at Monday night’s council meeting hoping their opinions on council’s decision to amend the pay-to-play ordinance would cause the amendment to be rejected. Despite residents’ plea, council voted to pass the ordinance on the second reading, 4–1, and rejected Councilman Greg Newcomer’s recommendation to table it until more research is completed.
“The money jams up the process like the lily pads are jamming up Strawbridge Lake,” Newcomer said, adding he recently emailed the township’s ordinance to state Sen. President Steve Sweeney’s office. He said he received a response stating Moorestown’s ordinance does not reflect the goals Gov. Christie and Sweeney had in mind when agreeing that a uniform political contribution policy should be mandated throughout the state.
After witnessing inconsistencies in Birdsall Service Group, a Monmouth County-based engineering firm that disguised political contributions as personal contributions made by the firm’s employees, township solicitor Anthony Drollas said Sweeney and Christie settled on a bipartisan agreement saying that political contributions are “haphazard” and should be regulated statewide.
At the last council meeting, he explained that the ordinance increases the reporting requirements so any contribution must be reported.
The maximum contribution for professional business entities to council candidates was changed from $300 to $2,600, from $300 to $7,200 made to township party committees, and from $500 to $7,200 made to political action committees.
Council agreed the change would help increase political transparency. But Newcomer felt the increase in contribution levels eliminates that attempt.
“We wanted to simplify the ordinance. That’s the simple truth of it. We do what is best for this town,” Mayor Stacey Jordan said while listening in on the meeting via phone.
Agreeing with the amended reporting requirements, Newcomer had another idea in mind for the ordinance. He said maximum limits should be set at $100 per year for all contributors.
Mark Hines, member of the Democratic Party who ran for election last year, shared his opinion on the ordinance as a Moorestown resident.
He said he is an advocate for a tougher pay-to-play law, but the council’s amendment is “not in the interest of citizens. It’s in the interest of political parties alone.” He said it acts “nakedly as an attempt to bring more money into Moorestown.”
Deputy Mayor Chris Chiacchio disagreed with Hines’ statement, which he believed implied vendors are “buying their way into town.” He said council appoints vendors from outside Moorestown based on experience, background and work ethic.
Reiterating Jordan, Chiacchio said the goal of the ordinance was to attempt to unify the township with the possibility of a state-mandated change.
“It’s not a weakening of our standards,” Councilman Phil Garwood said.
Other who felt the same as Hines expressed their disdain with the ordinance.
Mark Singer said the ordinance is an “attempt to legalize corruption.” Others asked why the change of the ordinance is necessary.
Resident Lisa Petriello said she believes this ordinance is taking Moorestown in the wrong direction, asking the council what the benefit is of increasing the maximum contribution levels.
“Moorestown should be held to a higher standard. Maybe we should just keep donation levels where they are at and work on increasing transparency,” she said.
Newcomer suggested this issue should be continually discussed.
The next meeting is Monday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Moorestown High School’s IT Room.