ELIZABETH – Superior Court Assignment Judge Karen Cassidy this afternoon partially thawed out the funds of the Democratic challengers in Legislative District 20 and allowed them to reissue their newspaper, the Union County Reporter, but refused to unfreeze funds related to a campaign gala dinner held this past Saturday night and also refused to make available the funds of the PAC, For the People of Union County.
The judge issued her ruling pending another hearing scheduled for June 3.
The dejected faces of the defendants suggested they took the ruling as a blow. Campaign sources estimate the dinner funds as about $150,000 gross, and didn’t disagree with the following summary: you can print your paper but can’t pay for it.
“We intend to appeal,” said attorney Bruce Rosen, who represented the challengers, who envisioned last Saturday night’s well-attended gala dinner at the Pines as their financial setpiece for the remaining days of the campaign.
A week ago, on a complaint filed by the incumbents after looking at the opponents’ incomplete financial filings, Judge William Wertheimer froze the campaign funds of Democrats for Change until they could show how they raised their funds in compliance with state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) requirements.
With just over two weeks remaining before the June 7 election, the order halted a vigorous mail and propaganda effort by challengers trying to defeat state Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), and his running mates. Their weekly newspaper affiliated with the underdog challengers has run every week for 14 weeks leading up to the conflagration (until this week, when the money freeze stopped the presses), accompanied by at least six mail pieces.
But the corresponding financial intel on ELEC doesn’t support that kind of effort, a fact the challengers’ attorneys today were content to describe as “technical violations.”
Equating expenditures with free speech, Democrats for Change attorney Bruce Rosen and Board of Education attorney Mike Stein argued in court today that their clients have the constitutional right to spend money.
“There is no basis for the issuance of restraints on free speech coming on the heels of the Citizens United case,” said Stein. “This is clear overreach – it’s unconstitutional and needs to be resolved.”
They bristled with the notion that 34-year incumbent Lesniak would be claiming “irreparable harm” when he and has running mates have raised over a million dollars for their re-election bid.
Weiner/Lesniak attorney Therese Cubba said the incumbents complied with the statutes, unlike the challengers. “There is irreparable harm to the extent that they (Democrats for Change) can’t justify their funds,” she argued.
Rosen said, “No matter what they (his clients) report, they would say ‘this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.'”
Hobbled by the decision and bogged down in court, Rafael Fajardo, the leader of the movement to unseat Lesniak, said, “The only way he thinks he can win is to stop our message. It won’t work. We will be on the ground, working triply hard now.”
“A lot of newspapers,” said challenger Tony Monteiro as he exited the courtroom, referring to campaign strategy, given the judge’s order enabling the printing of the Union County Reporter.
The candidate said he intended to lend the campaign his own money to keep the operation afloat.