For a fourth time the City Council failed to vote on a resolution urging the city’s law department and city clerk to enforce the city’s pay-to-play laws.
This comes after the council tabled the resolution, sponsored by Council members Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour on Oct. 3. A Sept. 26 special council meeting was canceled due to the lack of a quorum, and the council tabled the resolution on Sept. 18.
The council also tabled a resolution sponsored by Council Members Peter Cunningham and Tiffanie Fisher urging the city to enforce the city’s ethics laws.
All this comes before the municipal election on Nov. 5 in which Hoboken residents will elect six ward council members and three trustees to the Board of Education.
The council is not scheduled to meet again until Nov. 6, after the election.
Pay to Play
The pay-to-play resolution “seeks to direct the City Clerk and Corporation Counsel to take every reasonable measure to enforce the city’s pay-to-play ordinances and ensure that same are in full force and effect during the November 2019 election cycle.”
According to Hoboken law, adopted in 2011, Political Action Committees (PACs) are limited to $500 contributions for individual candidates as opposed to the $2,600 allowable by state law. It also restricts contributions from developers and professionals seeking city contracts.
The city administration hired Newark law firm Hunt, Hamlin, & Ridley to review the city’s ordinance on pay-to-play laws and contributions, according to a city spokesperson.
According to a Sept. 3 letter from the firm’s attorney Ray Hamlin to Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia, the council should consider repealing its pay-to-play regulations because they are unenforceable and possibly unconstitutional and instead abide by state regulations. This was originally suggested by Joel Mestre, president of the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association.
The 18-page legal opinion argues that the restrictions on campaign contributions raise potential legal issues under the First Amendment given that the Supreme Court has determined that contributions constitute political speech.
“I opine that this extreme decrease in the permissible contribution amount has a strong possibility of being found as unconstitutionally low if challenged in that it prevents candidates and political committees from amassing the resources necessary for effective advocacy, and there appears to be no justification for the significant reduction or any close relationship between the governmental interests and the greatly reduced amount,” the letter says.
Hamlin argues the ordinance offers no explanation as to how the City Clerk would enforce the ordinance. That enforcement is not in line with the duties of the City Clerk, and the ordinance doesn’t define where the “penalty equal to four times the amount of the contribution” would go if imposed by a court.
The other resolution urges corporation council to enforce the city’s ethics laws, which prohibit using public property for political purposes. The council adopted an amendment Aug. 7 to expand Hoboken’s ethics laws to ban fundraising activities, political campaigning, and politicking from public property, including computers and the city’s Nixle alert system.
According to the resolution, this was in response to the Pay to Play resolution because “the City Council has been asked on several occasions to vote on a contradicting and nonbinding resolution that says two things at the same time: asks the administration to enforce its existing laws through the 2019 election, and then after the 2019 election consider the legal opinion that recommends repealing the same laws.”
The resolution also alleges that the Nixle alert sent by the mayor’s office on Sept. 20 violated the city’s ethics law.
The resolution states, “Mayor’s office went as far as issuing a political statement on Hoboken’s community Nixle alert system misleading the public to believe that a vote on the nonbinding resolution was required in order for his administration to enforce the City’s Pay to Play laws- ‘Mayor Bhalla calls a special meeting of the City Council to adopt a resolution to safeguard Hoboken municipal elections.’”
The resolution urges the administration and corporation counsel to “file appropriate actions” to enforce the ordinance provisions.
Council members voted 7-2 to table both resolutions. Only Council Members Doyle and Jabbour voted against the tabling.