Inside Bergen’s freeholder money

The Republican candidates for three Bergen County Freeholder seats have been calling on Democrats to close vendor donation loopholes in the county government for years, and yesterday they reiterated it.

“The Democrats purposely created a phony donation disclosure policy to mask how they really raise money,” said GOP candidate Maura DeNicola, mayor of Franklin Lakes, who herself had a contribution gaffe recently.

“They didn’t give the public the transparency we need; they gave themselves a loophole you could drive a truck though.”

Last night, hours after the GOP re-upped their claim, Democratic County Executive Dennis McNerney took the stage in a debate against Republican County Clerk Kathe Donovan where he brandished the disclosure regulation as an act of good government.

But the county regulation only requires potential county vendors to disclose which official person they contributed to, while a vast amount of the contributions they make are diverted into Political Action Committees (PACs) or the county party organizations, like the Bergen County Democratic Organization (BCDO).

“We raised this issue six years,” said GOP spokesperson Thom Ammirato. “Back then, (former party boss) Joe Ferriero didn’t let individual candidates raise money.”

Apparently, they still aren’t.

The Democratic freeholder candidates obtain most of their funding through a joint campaign committee, Carroll, Calabrese, and Hogan Victory 2010.

The Victory account took in threshold donations of $7,800 from several well known government-contracted firms: Ronald Schmidt and Assoc., Hatch Mott McDonald Inc., Malcolm Pirnie Inc., Maser Consulting, Richard A Alaimo Engineering Assoc., Acacia Financial Group Inc., Eric M Bernstein of Berstein and Assoc., Birdsall Services Group, and Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, PC.

The Victory account also took in $66,000 from the BCDO.

The BCDO, filing on different schedule that the Victory committee, reports a coffer total of $191,512, but only has $27,000 cash on hand.

They spent $252,168 in last period, and none of the big ticket contributors were individuals.

The top contributor – exposing the sometimes circuitous transfer on funding – was the Victory 2010 committee’s primary election account, dropping $100,007 in the bucket.

Second was another primary account, McNerney for County Executive, with $52,773 deposited.

After that, Empower Newark pitched in $37,500, Local Union #164 IBEW donated $37,500, and the NJ Regional Council of Carpenters (non-partisan) spent $37,000.

The BCDO also has outstanding loans from the Senate Democratic Majority Committee ($50,000), indicted former party attorney Dennis Oury ($25,000), and the Election Fund of Paul Sarlo ($15,000), among others.

[REMOVED: Non-itemized per diem workers were paid over $9,000 by the organization through Dumont Mayor Matt McHale and Bergen Community College trustee Ron Subramaniam.

BCDO Executive Director Chris Lee was unable to provide an immediate explanation of the spending.

Another $3,770 was paid to campaign workers whose names were listed on the report.

Unlisted “street cash” is prohibited by ELEC.

REPORTER’S NOTE“Per diem workers” is the organizational classification for administrative office workers like McHale and Subramaniam, said Lee. There was no pay distributed to “workers.”]

In more circular cash flow, the party organization paid out $60,000 to Dennis McNerney for Bergen County Executive General 2010, and $17,000 back to Victory 2010.

On the other side, the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) reports $100,014 total, nearly half of the Democrats bankroll, but all of it is cash on hand.

They spent a nearly identical $195,232 in last period.

Their top contributors were also in large part non-persons.

Saudino for Sheriff contributed $27,300 from the primary account, as did Friends of Kathe Donovan for County Executive with $24,000 sent to the county party.

After that, the top donors were Robert Schroeder of RS Consultants LLC at $15,830, Election Fund of Kevin J. O’Toole at $11,000, Inserra Supermarkets Inc. of Mahwah at  $10,500, Supporting Conservatives of Today and Tomorrow at $10,000.

Two individuals finally show up on the most donated lists, retiree Larry Luing of Boca Raton, FL with $10,000 and self-employed construction worker Fred Daibes, of Edgewater with $10,000.

Investing in both sides, Daibes also dropped $10,000 in the BCDO coffers.

The BCRO expended $50,000 back out to Friends of Kathe Donovan for County Executive.

Minimal contributions came into the Republican freeholder committee, DeNicola, Felice and Mitchell for Freeholder. Of note is a NJ Republican State Committee in-kind contribution of $31,552 for a mailer.

Each of the GOP freeholder candidates utilized their personal accounts to collect funds, much more so than their Democratic counterparts, who reported no contributions to their personal accounts in this election cycle, according to the ELEC website.

While the Republicans are calling on county vendor disclosure regulations to expand to committees and PACs, Democrats are calling on DeNicola to abide by the state’s existing disclosure regulations.

DeNicola collected $18,685 in campaign contributions, but didn’t itemize contributors over $300, which she claimed was a mistake that has been corrected.

The Democrats’ filed a complaint with ELEC, which can fine candidates for failure to disclose donors, as much as $6,800 per violation.

The party also requested the commission “put a freeze on expenditures from her campaign until a determination is made.”

“We recognize that it is a drastic step to ask the mayor to refrain from using this campaign money but, by her own admission, there are serious questions about her campaign contributions,” said Sean Darcy, campaign manager for the Democratic ticket. Inside Bergen’s freeholder money