By CHASE BRUSH
Responding to a June 16 press release calling on him to “return $4,600 in tainted campaign contributions” from a vendor with a $88,000 no-bid contract with the Atlantic County government, Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles said there’s “nothing wrong” with his campaign finance records.
“He’s just confused,” Balles said of Democratic challenger Dennis Munoz, who along with the Atlantic County Democratic Party issued the release. Munoz, a retired Atlantic City Police officer, announced his November bid for the county sheriff seat against incumbent Republican Balles back in March.
The press release, paid for by the county’s Democratic Party, alleges Balles accepted fraudulent campaign funds from the county auditing firm Ford, Scott & Associates on two occasions: once on March 15, 2013, when he received $2,600, and again on September 25, 2013, when he received $2,000 from the firm. Munoz and other county Democrats claim that Ford-Scott, which is currently auditing the county’s 2013 budget, violated the county’s pay-to-play laws by by contributing more than $300 to a county official.
“Sheriff Balles should do the right thing and return these funds,” said Munoz in the press release. “We don’t have two sets of rules—one for Frank Balles and one for everybody else. He has to follow the law just like everybody else.”
The affair prompted local attorney and county Democratic Party chairman James Schroeder to file a motion in front of the state Superior Court last week against the Ocean County-based firm. In response, an Atlantic County judge issued an order Monday restricting the county from awarding any new contracts to Ford-Scott until the lawsuit is reviewed in court on Aug 21.
“What’s fair is fair and what’s not right is not right,” Munoz told PolitickerNJ earlier today. “And it’s just not right.”
But not all agree that the contributions violate the county’s pay-to-play ordinance, which was enacted in 2007. Balles, who made an unsuccessful run for state senate last year against Atlantic County Democrat Jim Whelan (D-2), says both rounds of donations by Ford-Scott were made to his 2013 senate campaign and have nothing to do with his campaign for sheriff.
Under that interpretation, which is also held by county attorney James Ferguson, the donations would be governed by state campaign finance laws, not the county’s.
“The funds were received last year when I was a candidate for state senate. They have nothing to do with the sheriff’s election,” Balles told PolitickerNJ. “As a matter of fact, it was a $5,000 deficit out of my pocket at the end of the campaign.”
“This is just another campaign tactic. I think by the Democratic chairman filing this frivolous lawsuit they’re really having a chilling effect on Ford Scott’s first amendment rights to donate to any campaign they want to donate to,” Balles added. “They followed the pay to play policy on the county level and the campaign finance rules on the state level and their rights are being violated by the democratic chairman by this suit.”