ELEC Alleges Baraka Violated Campaign Finance Laws

ELEC claimed Baraka's campaign didn't disclose or misreported more than $300,000 in campaign contributions.

Ras Baraka. Max Pizarro for Observer

A state watchdog agency accused Newark Mayor Ras Baraka on Wednesday of failing to comply with a host of campaign finance regulations, involving more than $361,000 in political contributions.

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The Election Law Enforcement Commission, the state agency that monitors fundraising and election spending, filed a complaint claiming that Baraka’s 2014 campaign for mayor failed to disclose $160,000 in donations, filed incorrect information involving $155,000 in contributions, received $16,000 in excessive contributions and was late in reporting $29,000 in donations, according to a summary of the complaint.

In addition, ELEC alleged that Baraka’s campaign misreported roughly $34,000 in campaign expenses, according to the summary.

The 28-count complaint said the Baraka campaign received a dozen donations that exceeded the $2,600 legal limit. In several instances, the campaign reported those donations as coming from more than one person.

But in one such instance, state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) had signed a check for $5,000 that was deposited in Baraka’s campaign account in March 2014, according to the complaint. The campaign reported the $5,000 as two separate $2,500 donations from Codey and his wife, Mary Jo, the complaint said.

“Respondents received a $5,000 contribution from Richard J. Codey which was deposited into the campaign account on or about March 27, 2014. Richard J. Codey signed the check,” the complaint said. Baraka’s campaign violated campaign finance law “by knowingly accepting and depositing into the campaign depository a $5,000 contribution from Richard J. Codey. This $5,000 contribution exceeds the contribution limit by $2,400.”

Codey said both his and his wife’s names were on the check.

“They obviously applied $2,500 to my wife and the $2,500 to me,” Codey said of the Baraka camp. “What’s wrong with that? Both of our names are on the check.”

In other cases, the campaign received excessive donations but did not refund the amounts that exceeded the legal limit, such as a $10,800 contribution from the New Jersey State Laborer’s Political Action Committee.

In a statement, Baraka’s brother and campaign manager, Amiri Baraka Jr., said the campaign is reviewing the complaint with its legal team.

“Mayor Baraka holds his campaign to the highest standards and is committed to ensuring it is in full compliance with election and campaign finance laws,” Amiri Baraka Jr. said. “The campaign is working with a well-respected compliance firm, CFO Compliance LLC, that will ensure the campaign continues to remain compliant with the law.”

Under state law, Baraka and his campaign treasurer could face a penalty of up to $7,600 for each contribution reported incorrectly or late, and up to $10,000 for willfully accepting and not refunding, within 48 hours, each excessive contribution, according to the complaint. They have 20 days to respond to ELEC.

The election agency is also pursuing a case against Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, a powerful Democrat who is alleged to have misused tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign accounts on personal expenses such as a gym membership and trips to Puerto Rico. That case is pending, and DiVincenzo has denied wrongdoing.

Baraka will be seeking a second, four-year term as mayor of the state’s largest city in the May 2018 elections.

Update (5:33 p.m.): State Sen. Richard Codey responded to one of the allegations against Baraka in the ELEC complaint. His comments have been added to this story.

ELEC Alleges Baraka Violated Campaign Finance Laws