Clifton received campaign money from Morris-funded PAC
Published in The Bayshore Courier on July 28, 2005
Clifton received campaign money from Morris-funded PAC
By JACKIE CORLEY
Does the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government live up to its name?
The East Brunswick-based political action committee (PAC) was formed on July 3, 2003 as a nonpartisan ideological group. The PAC, which counts former Republican state Sen. Jack Sinagra, R-Middlesex, as its chairperson and David B. Himelman as its treasurer, is located at 44 Valley Forge Drive.
From July 2003 to June 17, 2004, the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government raised $93,200 and distributed $62,600 of that in campaign contributions.
Significant contributions made to the PAC came from such development and construction heavyweights as Jingoli Construction, Ferreira Construction and the Columbia Group, among others.
The Columbia Group, a Jack Morris company based in Piscataway, is the lead redeveloper for Matawan in the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station Redevelopment Project. The Columbia Group’s plan, as described in a September 23, 2002 report by Richard Coppola, planner for the interlocal agency formed by Aberdeen and Matawan, included 1,000 residential dwelling units and did not meet the specifications detailed by the interlocal services agreement.
The Matawan Borough Council selected the Columbia Group as its redeveloper in a resolution passed December 3, 2002. Matawan was subsequently sued by Silver Oaks Properties, the company selected by Aberdeen to serve as its redeveloper for the project. The issue is still in litigation.
On September 25, 2003, Jack Morris, his wife and his business partner each contributed $7,200 to the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government.
Furthermore, another company Morris is employed by, Marlboro Routes 9 & 520 Development Company LLC, located at 69 Century Drive in Clifton, contributed $3,200 on September 25, 2003.
The $24,800 represented about 27 percent of the $93,200 in the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government’s coffers by June 17, 2004, the largest share held by any associated group of individuals who contributed to the PAC by that time.
Additionally, the Columbia Group and Smith Street Properties, another Morris company, each contributed $7,200 to the PAC some time between July 2004 and September 2004. ELEC reports filed by the PAC do not specify an exact date.
The majority of the $62,600 distributed by the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government went to candidates in Middlesex and Mercer Counties. However, one Monmouth official received funds from the year-old PAC: Freeholder Rob Clifton, who was mayor of Matawan at the time the borough’s governing body selected the Columbia Group as its lead redeveloper.
On June 17, 2004, the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government contributed $5,000 to Clifton’s freeholder election fund. Clifton raised a total of $19,650 in contributions over $400 for the 2004 freeholder election, in which Freeholder Amy Handlin was his running mate. Thus, the $5,000 contribution made by the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government represented 25 percent of the total contributions over $400 made to Clifton’s election fund.
In addition to contributions made to office seekers, the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government also contributed $24,000 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee on October 1, 2004, when state Sen. Joe Kyrillos was chair of the party.
Is it wheeling?
“Wheeling” is a practice whereby contributors give money to a PAC and, in turn, the PAC gives money to the candidate the contributor was actually looking to give money to. Wheeling places a degree of distance between a candidate and a contributor, particularly when a direct contribution would give the appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest.
Whether or not Clifton knew that the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government was significantly funded by Jack Morris and his associates is unclear. Clifton has not returned calls by press time.
Kyrillos said he was not aware of Clifton receiving any money from Morris or a Morris-funded PAC. When informed of the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government’s $5,000 contribution to Clifton’s freeholder race, Kyrillos said, “I think Rob is a bright, objective person who makes his own decisions and certainly did [on the train station] matter.”
December 3, 2002: Matawan Borough Council passes an ordinance declaring the Columbia Group the lead redeveloper for the borough’s portion of the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station Project.
July 3, 2003: The Committee for Responsibility & Trust in Government, a political action committee (PAC), is formed in East Brunswick.
September 25, 2003: Morris, his wife and associated companies and employees contribute $24,800 to the PAC. By June 17, 2004, the $24,800 represents 27 percent of the total amount in the fund.
April 2004: Matawan Mayor Rob Clifton is selected to replace Freeholder Ed Stominski and join Freeholder Amy Handlin on the Republican line for the November election. State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, and former Monmouth Republican Chairman Bill Dowd meet with Stominski to inform him of the decision.
June 8, 2004: Clifton and Handlin defeat Stominski in the primary for the Republican freeholder line.
June 15, 2004: Fred Niemann unseats Dowd as chairman of the Monmouth Republican Committee.
June 17, 2004: Clifton, still mayor of Matawan, receives $5,000 from the Committee for Responsibility & Trust in Government for his general freeholder election fund.
July-September 2004: Morris companies contribute $14,400 to the PAC. The exact dates of the contributions are not specified.
October 1, 2004: The New Jersey Republican State Committee, chaired by Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, receives $24,000 from the Committee for Responsibility & Trust in Government.