Are contributors buying access or buying contracts?
Published in The Bayshore Courier on July 14, 2005.
Are contributors buying access or buying contracts?
By JACKIE CORLEY
What's good for the goose is usually good for the gander, unless you're talking about the difference between state level and county level campaign financing.
The Monmouth County Republican Committee, chaired since June 15, 2004 by Wall Township resident Fred Niemann, has kept the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders in Republican hands for over 20 years.
The five-member Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, which awards tens of millions of dollars in county contracts each year, is currently all Republican and consists of Freeholder Director Thomas J. Powers; Freeholder Deputy Director Amy Handlin; Freeholder Ted Narozanick; Freeholder Robert Clifton; and Freeholder William Barham.
According to an executive order issued by former Gov. James McGreevey on September 24, 2004, the state's departments, agencies and authorities cannot award a contract over $17,500 to a company or individual that has made contributions to any candidate running for governor or to a state or county political party.
The executive order, however, does not apply to companies that have made contributions to county political parties and who enter into contracts with county governments.
In May 2005, Handlin began introducing a reform package, one piece of which was meant to make the contract awarding process more transparent.
Handlin, who has not returned calls at press time, was quoted in published reports as saying that she knows there are no “sweetheart deals” when it comes to county contracts awarded to architectural and engineering firms, but that the reform package would allow the public a more “transparent view” of the awarding process.
While Handlin's reform package addressing no-bid contracts would employ a “point-system” to determine the qualifications of a company for a project, it does not place any limits on firms that contribute significantly to county parties and apply for no-bid contracts from the county.
Notably, money from the Monmouth County Republican Committee is used to heavily finance Republican freeholder elections. For example, during Clifton's and Handlin's 2004 general freeholder election, the two Republican candidates each received $50,598.12 in in-kind contributions, about 40 percent of the total money the pair received at that time, from the Monmouth County Republican Committee, according to New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) reports.
Under Niemann's watch, the Monmouth County Republican Committee raised $392,535 in contributions over $400 from July 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005, excluding money contributed to the county party by election funds of would-be office holders.
Of the $392,535 the Monmouth County Republican Committee collected during Niemann's time as county chair, $75,570 came from companies that received a contract or multiple contracts with the county, as approved by the Board of Chosen Freeholders, from June 2004 to April 2005.
Among the firms that have donated to the Monmouth County Republican Committee and also received county contracts approved by the all-Republican Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders are: Henshell & Buccellato; Earle Asphalt Company; French & Parrello Associates; Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan Griffinger & Vecchione; MBI GluckShaw; Hatch Mott MacDonald; HDR Engineering, Inc.; Hawkins Delafield & Wood, LLP; Seely Equipment and Supply Co., Inc; Freehold Cartage Inc.; The Dittmar Agency and Abbington Associates.
Henshell & Buccellato, a Red Bank-based architectural firm, gave the Monmouth County Republican Committee $3,900 between August 2004 and November 2004, according to ELEC reports. Paul Buccellato, a partner in the firm, is a Matawan councilman and the chairman of the borough's Republican organization. On January 13, 2005, Henshell & Buccellato was awarded a $25,000 contract by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders to provide “call-in professional architectural services” for the Monmouth County Department of Buildings and Grounds for 2005.
The Earle Asphalt Company has provided paving, construction and general contracting work to municipal and county governments and residential and commercial developers for nearly 30 years. From August 2004 to September 2004, the company contributed $2,500 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee, according to ELEC reports. From July to September 2004, Earle Asphalt Company received $2,875,324.44 in contracts with the county, according to resolutions adopted by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The Holmdel-based engineering firm of French & Parrello Associates contributed $4,000 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee on August 6, 2004. From October 2004 to December 2004, the company received $35,000 in contracts with the county.
Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione is a Newark-based law firm that specializes in bond law. The firm, which counts Middletown Republican Chairman Peter Carton among its employed attorneys, currently serves as the bond counsel for Monmouth County, Middletown, Highlands and Union Beach, where Carton is named specifically as the attorney representing the firm in the borough.
From August to November 2004, Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione contributed $7,500 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee, ELEC reports show. The firm was reappointed as the county's bond council on January 4, 2005.
Additionally, Carton contributed $500 on May 27, 2005 to Handlin's 2005 primary campaign for the assembly.
MBI GluckShaw is a Trenton-based public affairs and legislative lobbying firm. On August 9, 2004, Hazel Gluck, one of the firm's consultants, contributed $2,000 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee. Gluck also contributed $1,000 to Handlin's assembly campaign on May 7, 2005.
On March 23, 2005, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders awarded a $92,700 to MBI GluckShaw and the Strategy Group for management consultant services in support of the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex passenger rail line project.
Hatch Mott MacDonald is a consulting engineering firm with New Jersey offices located in Cape May, Freehold and Millburn. The firm contributed $4,000 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee on August 6, 2004, according to ELEC reports. Additionally, Clifton accepted a $2,000 contribution from the firm for his 2004 freeholder election on November 11, 2004. Hatch Mott MacDonald received at least two contracts from the county: an $8,150 contract on June 24, 2005 and a $60,000 contract on October 14, 2004.
HDR Engineering, Inc. is an architectural and engineering firm based in White Plains, NY. From August 2004 to November 2004, the company contributed $3,900 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee. On December 9, 2004, HDR Engineering, Inc. received a contract for $499,870.
Hawkins Delafield & Wood, LLP is a Manhattan-based law firm that specializes in public finance and government contracts. ELEC reports show that attorneys from the company contributed $2,800 from July 2004 to October 2004. On November 9, 2004, Hawkins Delafield & Wood, LLP received a $290,000 contract to provide special legal counsel services for 2005.
Seely Equipment and Supply Co., Inc., Farmingdale, provides vehicles, snowplows and other supplies to municipal and county governments. The company contributed $4,000 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee, according to ELEC reports. From June 2004 to September 2004, Seely Equipment and Supply Co., Inc. received $218,315 in contracts from the county.
Freehold Cartage Inc., based in Freehold, provides waste removal services. From October 2004 to November 2004, the company gave $5,900 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee. From July 2004 to November 2004, Freehold Cartage, Inc. received $5,525,420 in contracts with Monmouth County.
The Dittmar Agency is a Freehold-based insurance company. In October 2004, the company gave $3,000 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee, ELEC reports show. From December 2004 to April 2005 received $674,666 in county contracts.
Abbington Associates is an engineering and architectural firm based in Freehold. In October 2004, the company's president, James P. Kovacs, contributed $6,300 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee. From June 2004 to December 2004, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved $279,700 in contracts with Abbington Associates.
The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders cannot award a contract simply because a company or individuals who operate or are employed by a contribution make significant contributions to a candidate or county party. The bid process, as regulated by state law, is highly involved, with contracts awarded to those companies that the governing body believes will best serve the interests of the municipality or county.
Nevertheless, there are few actual restrictions to campaign contributors, at least on the county level, when it comes to government contracts. Even before recent scandals rocked Monmouth County, McGreevey put in place significant controls to monitor state contracts. Meanwhile, the county has yet to impose similar standards.