Clifton to return money from Morris-funded PAC
Published in the August 11, 2005 issue of The Courier.
Clifton to return money from Morris-funded PAC
By JACKIE CORLEY
After learning that the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government was significantly funded by developer Jack Morris, former Matawan mayor and Freeholder Rob Clifton said he will return the $5,000 he received from the political action committee (PAC).
As first reported in the Thursday, July 28 issue of The Courier, the Committee for Responsibility and Trust in Government, an East Brunswick-based PAC, received significant funding from Morris, his wife and associated companies. The group, formed on July 3, 2003, contributed $5,000 to Clifton’s successful general freeholder election.
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 company owned and operated by Morris 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 memorandum from 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 northern counties in the state. However, Clifton, who was mayor of Matawan at the time the borough’s governing body selected the Columbia Group as its lead redeveloper, was the only Monmouth official to receive funds from the year-old PAC.
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.
Clifton to return money
At the Tuesday, August 2 meeting of the Matawan Borough Council, Clifton was on hand to swear-in Councilwoman Victoria Allen to the seat vacated by former Councilman Michael Cannon.
When questioned about the $5,000 contribution, Clifton said he was not aware that Morris significantly funded the PAC and, since being made aware of that fact, planned to return the money.
“When I received a letter from David Himmelman, who was the head of it – the attorney, and CC’ed on that was Jack Sinagra, who is a former Republican state senator. When I did some background checking on it—I also asked the state Republican Committee to check it—[I saw] it was bi-partisan. It gave to Assemblyman Bill Baroni. It gave to a [Democrat] Union County Surrogate candidate and the Burlington County Republican Party,” Clifton said.
“So, as I did some background checking, I honestly didn’t check into who had donated to the PAC. But from the indications I had gotten from Democrats and Republicans, it was a legitimate political action committee and that’s why I took it. Now, in hindsight, seeing who is the developer in question who contributed, I’m going to give the money back,” Clifton concluded.