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Local Pay-to-Play Provision To Be Put Before the Voters In South Jersey, While DC Mayor Vincent Gray Makes A Push for New Pay-to-Play Rules in the Nation’s Capitol

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With Labor Day weekend at hand and the Republican and Democratic National Conventions upon us, much of the American electorate is finally beginning to tune back into politics and prepare themselves for what will certainly be a very interesting close to the 2012 campaign season. News regarding the race for The White House will certainly dominate the media over the coming months, and rightfully so, but Pay-to-Play Law Blog is here to offer our readers, particularly those residing in swing states, a brief respite from the 24-7 presidential election coverage. We know our readers love Super PAC advertisements, political campaign internet pop-ups, and robo-calls as much as (if not more than) anyone, but we also know that they like to stay up to date on the important state and local pay-to-play news that might otherwise be slipping through the cracks between now and November 6th. With that in mind, we offer up a few recent items of interest from the Garden State and D.C.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, where individuals and businesses alike must already deal with restrictive pay-to-play provisions at the state level, we are continuing to see similar (and often more serious) restrictions contemplated and put in place at the municipal level. For example, consider recent developments in Gloucester Township, an exurb of Philadelphia, which has had an extraordinarily busy summer when it comes to “pay-to-play” developments.

Several months ago, a conservative transparency group known as South Jersey Citizens made an effort to launch citizen-crafted pay-to-play provisions through the township’s petition process, but were unable to gather the requisite signatures to advance the proposed legislation to the Gloucester Council and, if necessary, the November ballot. At nearly the same time, Gloucester Councilman Dan Hutchinson presented his own set of pay-to-play rules specifically targeting Super PAC donation disclosure, which were unanimously approved by the Council on first reading, but subsequently withdrawn before a final vote. Following the withdrawal of these proposed rules, a group of Democratic Gloucester residents took up the pay-to-play mantle by repackaging the Councilman’s draft ordinance and gathering the requisite petition signatures for its public submission to the Council. As a result of their work, the pay-to-play proposal came before the Council members for tacit approval on Monday and will appear on the November general election ballot for the voters of Gloucester Township to consider.

The content of Gloucester’s prospective pay-to-play ordinance, O-12-17, places a combination of contribution restrictions and disclosure requirements on prospective township vendors. Specifically, if passed, the proposed provision would prohibit any business entity from entering into any agreement or contract with Gloucester Township or any of its departments, instrumentalities, purchasing agents or authorities for a one year period following the solicitation or making of a contribution above the “monetary threshold” to any Gloucester-specific candidate, candidate committee, joint candidate committee, political party committee, or to any PAC or Super PAC that “regularly engages in the support of Gloucester Township municipal elections…” The monetary threshold for this one-year, cooling-off period is set at the following levels: $300 per calendar year for mayoral or governing body contributions; $500 per calendar year for joint candidate committees supporting mayoral or governing body candidates; $300 per calendar year to municipal political committees or municipal political party committees; $500 per calendar year to any PAC or Super PAC; and $2,500 in aggregate in to all Gloucester candidates, committees, joint committees, political committees and political party committees. The potential ordinance would also require all business entities entering into agreements or contracts with the township to file a certification statement disclosing all their contributions to Super PACs, regardless of whether or not those Super PACs actively engage in Gloucester elections.

All-in-all, the proposed ordinance appears to represent an honest attempt by the township to reign in pay-to-play corruption and encourage transparency in political giving. Like many of the municipal pay-to-play provisions in the Garden State, however, it takes a fairly heavy-handed approach and, if passed, may force many potential Gloucester vendors to either cool their political speech at the local level or avoid municipal contract work altogether. Regardless of this blog’s commentary, however, the residents of Gloucester Township will weigh in with their thoughts on the proposed ordinance on November 6th.

District of Columbia

Meanwhile, a few hours down I-95, embattled Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray made news this week by proposing a series of campaign finance disclosure requirements and donation restrictions that he claims will curb “pay-to-play” activities in D.C., and minimize the influence of lobbyists and contractors on District politics. While at least partially a public relations move designed to draw attention away from the continuing federal investigation into Gray’s fundraising and campaign spending activities, the proposals – if passed by the D.C. Council this fall – would leave Washington, D.C. with one of the strictest campaign finance structures in the country. Although not yet memorialized in legislative language, let’s nevertheless take a quick look at some of the rough proposals set forth by the Mayor and D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan this past Tuesday.

From a pure pay-to-play perspective, Gray and Nathan suggested putting in place legislative provisions that curb political donations from any city vendor who holds a municipal contract valued at $250,000 or more. Specific details regarding how significant this “curbing” would be have yet to be put forth, but Gray and Nathan pledged to have more definite plans for the D.C. Council’s consideration this fall. Stay tuned for updates on this front…

In addition to this proposed contribution restriction for D.C. government vendors, Gray and Nathan also called for additional legislation that would prohibit registered District lobbyists from bundling campaign contributions, ban corporations from donating to District candidates through linked or affiliated entities, and require candidates that receive campaign donations within 30 days of an election to disclose such contributions within 24 hours of receipt. They also floated two other proposals that, if passed, could have a profound impact on political participation in D.C. Specifically, the Mayor and Attorney General announced that they will be pursuing campaign finance rules that severely restrict political contributions from LLCs and corporations, and also seeking legislation that will require candidate-like donor disclosure for other types of political organizations in the District.

Just as with the pay-to-play proposal discussed above, the details of these legislative prerogatives are hazy at best. Gray and Nathan will be working in the coming weeks to put meat on the bone for D.C. Council consideration, but the final product (if any) that emerges from that body will almost certainly tackle the pertinent policy issues in a different manner than proposed by the Mayor and Attorney General. With that in mind, Pay-to-Play Law Blog will be here to monitor the process and keep our readers up-to-date on all the fun.