Monmouth Co. loosens pay-to-play regs; Citizens Campaign: return to ‘wheeling’ days

TRENTON – Last week, the Monmouth County freeholders replaced their pay-to-play ordinance with a “weak” fair-and-open process, according to a government accountability group that called for the more rigorous law to be reinstated.

The Citizens Campaign called the freeholders’ new policy an “ill-advised” resolution in a release today, which would open the door for less accountability in local campaign financing.

Heather Taylor, an organization spokesperson, said, “The new policy adopted by Monmouth County is clearly designed to reinstate business as usual, allowing for the trading of campaign contributions for government contracts. After Operation Bid Rig, Monmouth County taxpayers cannot afford to return to the days of wheeling and dealing with taxpayer’s money.”

According to the group, which specializes in anti-pay-to-play legislation, the former law in Monmouth “ensured that business entities competed for county business based on their qualifications and cost-effectiveness, not political contributions.” Under the new law, the organization said, “safeguards against political favoritism” have been removed.

The group referenced the state Comptroller report from September 2011. From the report: “What our report found is that the fair-and-open exception is more than just a loophole that weakens the local government Pay-to-Play law. Qualifying for the fair-and-open exception returns the local government entity to the essentially unregulated system of contracting that existed before the Pay-to-Play law – and qualifying is ridiculously easy,” according to state Comptroller Matthew Boxer.

Monmouth was the third New Jersey county to adopt pay-to-play protections, following Atlantic and Mercer counties. The Bergen County freeholders adopted a strong pay-to-play resolution this past December, according to the non-partisan, non-profit group.

Monmouth Co. loosens pay-to-play regs; Citizens Campaign: return to ‘wheeling’ days