The Hoboken City Council has unanimously introduced a first-reading ordinance that aims to tighten the city’s pay-to-play laws.
This comes as the city gears up for its municipal elections in which the position of mayor and three at-large council seats are up for election.
Only Council President Ruben Ramos has filed documents with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, creating the “Ramos for Mayor” committee.
Mayor Ravi Bhalla is also expected to run, having more than $100,000 in his election fund, according to his January state filings, although he has not yet formally announced.
The 2011 law
According to current Hoboken law, originally adopted in 2011, Political Action Committees (PACs) and unions are limited to $500 contributions for individual candidates as opposed to the $2,600 allowable by state law.
Hoboken’s laws restrict contributions from developers, vendors, and professionals seeking city contracts.
Hoboken’s ordinance on contract reform states that any entity that was awarded a contract with the city cannot have donated more than $300 within one calendar year immediately preceding the date of the contract, to any candidate or candidate committee.
This was designed to stop quid pro quo contracts, preventing contractors from donating large sums of money to those running for election in order to later get contracts.
The law as it stands states, “The contribution limitations prior to entering into a contract do not apply to contracts which are awarded to the lowest responsible bidder after public advertising for bids or are awarded in the case of emergency.” Any business entity violating the ordinance will be disqualified from eligibility for future contracts with the city for four years after the violation.
If adopted on second reading, the measure would not allow vendors who received emergency contracts to contribute to any Political Action Committees, or independent expenditure groups, for 12 months before entering into a contract with the city.
It restricts any vendor from making a contribution within 12 months beyond the termination of their contract.
Currently, the city’s pay-to-play laws limit contributions within the same calendar year, so someone could contribute in December and again the following month in January of the next year and technically be in compliance with local law.
The introductory ordinance would expand the definition of Political Action Committees or PACs and also include Independent Expenditure Committees, or groups that don’t directly contribute to a candidate but instead spend money on things like advertising in support of a candidate independently from that candidate.
According to the introductory ordinance, “Independent Expenditures Committees” (“IEC”s) are increasingly used as a way to raise money to influence the outcome of elections. The city council wants this type of fundraising vehicle also to be subject to its pay-to-play laws.”
Unsuccessful first attempt
In December, a similar ordinance failed with a 5-4 vote on second reading after Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia and councilmembers questioned the legality of part of the proposed ordinance that would have prohibited siblings and parents of any city vendors from donating to political campaigns, calling it an overreach.
While it had been introduced with an 8-1 vote, it was defeated on second reading.
The new ordinance, introduced by the council 9-0 on Jan. 20, removed the language pertaining to the vendor’s family members.