Campaign donations from vendors with public contracts dropped 23 percent in 2012, according to figures released today by the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
The $7.6 million in contractor donations last year is down from $9.9 million in 2011 and down 50 percent or $7.5 million since 2006.
“Over time, contractor contributions have been trending in one direction- down. The reduction in 2012 is the second largest year-to-year drop since ELEC began keeping records,’’ said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle.
Brindle attributed much of the drop in 20112 to a reduction in donations to Political Action Committees, a widespread practice in past years that was highlighted in a series of articles first on PolitickerNJ and later in other news outlets.
Last year, total contributions to PACs dropped from $1.7 million to $1 million.
“ELEC has long suspected that some contractors were using PACs with close ties to party officials to get around pay-to-play contribution limits. Last year, the practice drew widespread publicity, and that appears to have made contractors more reluctant to pursue this strategy,’’ Brindle said.
Some contractors may also have stopped donating altogether for fear of running afoul of state and local laws and losing their public contracts, Brindle said.
While donations from contractors were down, the total value of their contracts rose by 7 percent to $5.7 billion.
Remington Vernick Engineers was the top political giver last year at $457,050 followed by engineering firm T&M Associates at $366,565. Birdsall Services Group, the mebattled engineering firm that was forced into bankruptcy after 10 employees were indicted in a pay to play scheme, donated $107,766 on the year.
Former Burlington County Republican Freeholders Bruce Garganio and Mary Ann O’Brien, who lost their reelection bid in November. The pair received $192,200 in contractor donations.
Under pay-to-play laws, all businesses that have received $50,000 or more in total public contracts must report their contracts and contributions to ELEC each spring. Those with state contracts in excess of $17,500 are prohibited from contributing more than $300 to gubernatorial candidates, state political parties, legislative leadership committees, county political parties, and municipal political party committees.
State contribution limits range from $2,600 per election for individuals or corporations to candidates, to $37,000 annually to county party committees. Since 2006, the average contribution from contractors has dropped from $1,225 to $1,092, an 11 percent decline.