In 2011, the Plainfield City Council voted to enact strong pay-to-play legislation through a set of ordinances. These set strict limits for vendors’ political contributions to local candidates who’d control awarding of contracts.
The ordinance with the most teeth was MC 2011-11, which notably set a $300 local donation limit for individuals associated with vendors, and $2500 for groups of people linked to any one vendor.
Current City Council president Rebecca Williams, Councilor Cory Storch, and Mayor Adrian Mapp all served on the governing body at that time. They all voted “yes” for the ordinance MC 2011-11, which was written by the Citizens Campaign but sponsored by Storch himself. Only Councilors Rivers and Greaves voted “no”, and the legislation passed 5-2. See Bernice Paglia’s post about the November 2011 meeting.
Williams’ support was no surprise. In a January 2011 blog post (here), Williams, then brand new to the Council, stated her desire to enact “the strongest municipal pay-to-play legislation possible.” It was part of her election platform.
Later that year, when the legislation was on the table, Williams posted (here) on her blog again in effort to push it through. “It is estimated that New Jersey residents pay upwards of 15-20% more for services in the form of padded contracts which are often awarded to vendors in exchange for making contributions to politicians,” said Williams regarding pay-to-play. “Now is the time to get it done.”
Like Williams, Councilor Storch took to the blogosphere (here) to advocate on behalf of residents. “You can become a favored vendor by making campaign contributions to politicians in power who have the ability to influence the awarding of contracts,” explained Storch.
“The cost of these contributions gets passed on to the taxpayers through the contracts approved by municipal councils and freeholder boards. This is a double whammy because the incentive for vendors to do good work is diminished – why try hard to please the customer when you get the contract through an insider arrangement behind closed doors?” he asked.
After it was passed, Storched called it “an important moment for local government” before suggesting the ordinance could even be strengthened in the future. Williams and Storch both made a strong argument for this legislation.
So it caught me by surprise when I heard about Ordinance MC 2017-02, to be voted on tomorrow (Tuesday, January 17). This ordinance would gut 2011’s pay to play restrictions. Word is the sponsors are none other than Storch and Williams.
Ordinance Amending Chapter 2 Adminstration, Article 10, Sections 2:19-22 would be entirely removed with four “yes” votes tomorrow. Gone. Eliminated. Crossed out, literally. Every single word. Take a look yourself here.
If MC 2017-02 is passed, political contributions will become a relative free-for-all, brought upon by the same group who promised to reign in corruption.
According to Cory Storch – the 2011 version – pay-to-play “enables the party and people in power to amass huge war chests that are a disadvantage to outsiders, newcomers, and non-incumbents who want to run for office.” Apparently, now, that’s exactly what they want.
Pay-to-play reform may have sounded like a nice idea to Mapp, Williams, and Storch as they sat on the outside looking in, just over five years ago. But now that they are themselves in power, it’s time to turn back the clock. Pay-to-play is back in play. Democracy be damned. Taxpayers too.
In one of those 2011 blog posts, Rebecca Williams urged us to hold her and her colleagues accountable. I suggest we do just that.
Tomorrow’s (January 17) combined City Council agenda fixing and business Meeting starts at 7pm in Municipal Court. Encourage the City Council to say no to pay-to-play. If it wasn’t right in 2011, it’s not right in 2017.