Campaign contributions controversy in district 1

Anne Milgram is going to be busy in the first district.

Just before state Senator Nicholas Asselta and his Assembly running mates were scheduled to hold a press conference asking the Attorney General to investigate Democratic wheeling of campaign funds in the first district in 2005, Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore Wilfredo Caraballo called on Milgram to investigate whether first district Republicans transferred money between their own campaign accounts to circumvent contribution limits.

The Republicans seized on a Tuesday investigative report from the Press of Atlantic City that showed the Camden County Democratic Committee circumventing campaign contribution caps two years ago by donating $400,000 to the Cape May Democratic Organization, which then went directly to an ad blitz in the Philadelphia television market on behalf of the Assembly campaigns of Jeff Van Drew and Nelson Albano.

The Camden County Democrats’ donation would have been limited to $32,800 had they given directly to the candidates.

State Sen. Nicholas Asselta and his Assembly running mates Norris Clark and Michael Donohue said 2005 donations were illegal because language in the state’s Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act states that “persons making contributions to the county committee of a political party have a right to expect their money will be used, for the most part, to support candidates for elected office who will most directly represent the interest of that county.”

Camden County, the Republicans argue, does not represent the interests of Cape May.

“We’re calling for a legitimate investigation here, because the first district voters are being influenced, or are trying to be influenced, by a tremendous amount of money from an outside sources,” said Asselta.

But the Democrats managed to strike first, with Caraballo issuing a press release that called the Republicans’ complaint the “height of hypocrisy.”

All three Republicans, had breceived maximum contributions of $8,200 each by the New Jersey Builders Association PAC to their individual campaign funds, which the two Assembly candidates then pooled in a joint campaign fund. This, the Democrats argue, would allow Asselta to draw more from the joint campaign fund than the amount of the maximum contribution.

“If the GOP is so dead-sure that such transfers are problematic, then they should have no problem with the Attorney General investigating Nick Asselta and his running-mate's own campaign practices,” said Caraballo. “It is the height of hypocrisy for Republicans to continually harp on their self-ascribed ethical purity while their own candidates quietly pass envelopes among themselves.

Asselta scoffed at the accusation that there was anything wrong with pooling campaign contributions. Instead of donating $8,200 to each of the candidates, Asselta argued, the PAC could have just as easily donated $24,600 to their joint account.

Moreover, Asselta said, the amount of money in question paled in comparison to the $400,000 donated by Camden County Democrats in 2005.

“Once again they’re trying to change the issue from what The Atlantic City Press has discovered,” said Asselta. “Why would you waste the Attorney General’s time looking at something like that, when at least the way I interpret it is it’s the proper way of doing things?”

While Assembly Democrats weren’t as insistent that the Republicans had broken the law, they said they should welcome an Attorney General investigation into their practices.

“For the Asselta team, it’s a game of would have, could have, should have, but didn’t,” said Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee Spokesman Derek Roseman. “If they want to take the time to explain their logic to the attorney general, they can certainly have that chance.”