To the editor:
Moorestown Town Council passed ordinance 16-2013, revising provisions for political contributions and expanding reporting of contributions from all contributors, at its Aug. 5 (first reading) and Aug. 19 (second and final reading) meetings. At both meetings, I asked for the action to be tabled, and I finally voted “No” to the ordinance. I have been asked by several citizens “Why?” In the interest of clear communications, I will explain.
Although I had asked and tried to see the actual ordinance before the Aug. 5 meeting, I did not receive it until arriving at the meeting, where I was asked to vote on it for first reading. I felt then I would like more research, and would certainly want to read a 2.5-page document and the entire chapter of the code before voting, so I made a motion to table it.
After the first meeting, I spent a fair amount of time researching the document. The ordinance had been presented at the first meeting as “in keeping” with a dialogue between Gov. Christie, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and other legislators to reform statewide pay-to-play laws. In fact, the language in the ordinance stated that by adopting, we would take action to “remain consistent with expected regulatory reforms.” In order to understand those expected reforms, I emailed the ordinance to Senator Sweeney’s office. The Senate president’s chief of staff wrote back, stating our proposed ordinance was “not consistent” with the discussions and dialogue on pay-to-play. I called and spoke to this person for confirmation. I reported this at the Aug. 19 meeting, along with a request to research the subject more. When the ordinance was brought to a vote, I voted “No” again, for this and other reasons. Unfortunately, the ordinance passed.
While it is good that the ordinance makes every dollar reportable, I have great concern for the changed amounts. The ordinance increases from $300 to $2,600 the amount professional business entities may contribute to town council candidates and political parties, and from $500 to $7,200 contributions from professional business entities to a PAC (political action committee). This enables a few people to influence the outcome of a local election by their substantial contributions.
Instead, why not ask folks to donate to causes which have a real and tangible effect benefiting Moorestown in the name of their party or candidate, such as Percheron Park, the various food banks, or a fund for the homeless and near-homeless in town? There are numerous projects and needs which would be well-served by the $70,000-80,000 spent altogether on the most recent town council campaign.
Many folks I have spoken to would like to see an election and campaign process which is open to all who wish to serve our town—independents, Republicans, Democrats, and those with no party affiliation. I know many people who would be a great asset to town government, who feel the rhetoric fueled by money pumped into political campaigns is distasteful and not something they want to take the risk to be part of.
Why should local town elections be this way? Many folks believe this becomes a battle of marketing strategies, which forward one party or another. It is like a disease for which you need a cure. My cure would be less money from outside entities, creating a climate where everyone would want to consider being a candidate.
When we first moved to Moorestown, a very perceptive person shared with me, “We need everybody.” He meant we need people of a variety of skills, backgrounds and experiences to be involved in our town. We need everybody to solve the problems that are facing us and to continue the valuable traditions which make Moorestown the successful town that it is.
With all the available avenues for candidates to get their message across—such as community events, debates, neighborhood meet and greets, letters to the editor, Facebook and Twitter—there is little need for highly financed campaigns in local elections. I am interested in having the best process and researching fully all portions of the pay-to-play process to create well-founded rules, which will serve all of Moorestown’s residents. I will work for open discussions and dialogue to pursue revisions to pay-to-play and toward having a valuable policy which reflects the best practices for our town.
Moorestown Township Councilman
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