Committee passes campaign finance reform

New rules will limit contributions from businesses that wish to contract with Washington Township.

By: Mark Moffa
   WASHINGTON — The Township Committee last week passed a campaign finance reform ordinance that would limit campaign contributions made by businesses seeking township contracts.
   By a 4-1 margin, the committee on April 25 passed a measure that restricts professional businesses from contracting with the township if they have donated more than $250 to any candidate for Township Committee or more than $500 to any municipal or county political party committee.
   "What we’re trying to do is make sure we hire the best professionals, not just those that give us money," Mayor Dave Fried said.
   Officials have said the restrictions would prevent the appearance of preferential treatment in contracting professional services. These services, such as the township attorney and the engineering and auditing firms, are hired by the Township Committee without a public bidding process.
   Washington may be the first municipality in the state to adopt such a campaign finance reform law.
   Committeeman Jack Mozloom voted against the ordinance, saying he opposed the limitation of contributions to the county political parties.
   "What’s the rationale to limiting contributions outside of Washington Township?" he asked.
   Township Attorney Dave Kenny said the county committee could funnel money to the local candidate, thus bypassing the limitation system.
   Mr. Mozloom said that businesses such as Mr. Kenny’s law firm and Van Cleef Engineering likely have made contributions to the Republican county committee above the limits established in the ordinance. He questioned whether such organizations should be barred from doing businesses with the township.
   "My only concern is that I think we’re reaching beyond our own jurisdiction," said Mr. Mozloom, a Republican who is running for one of two open Mercer County freeholder seats.
   Committeeman Doug Tindall said he thought the measure had to be far-reaching to be effective.
   "What you’re trying to get is a loophole, and we’re resisting it," Mr. Tindall said.
   Mr. Mozloom then wanted to know why no provisions were included to limit contributions to state or national political parties.
   The rest of the committee members appeared to support that idea, and Mayor Fried suggested those limits could be included in a future amendment to the ordinance.
   The campaign finance reform ordinance was modified from its original version before it was introduced. The measure originally called for contribution limits of $400 to Township Committee candidates and $1,500 to any municipal or county political party committee. These were lowered to $250 and $500, respectively. State law establishes $1,500 and $2,500 limits.
   According to the ordinance, no professional business that has exceeded these contribution limits within a year of seeking a contract will be able to enter into an agreement with the township.
   No business is allowed to give any money to a candidate or holder of local public office or to a municipal or county political committee while it is under contract or in the process of negotiating with the township for a contract.
   Businesses found in violation will be prohibited from contracting with the township for four years.