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Sept. 14, 2005

I hope there isn’t a New Jersey lottery winner out there who made a significant political contribution before their winning digits were called. If there is, well, their number may be up.

I hope there isn’t a New Jersey lottery winner out there who made a significant political contribution before their winning digits were called. If there is, well, their number may be up.

The Garden State has already tried to pull what they consider weeds to the road and bridge bidding process behind its anti-pay-to-play law. The measure essentially prohibits those who contribute more than $3,000 to state or local campaigns from receiving state contracts worth $17,500 or more. Fortunately a federal judge took a mulcher to all the nonsense, saying that the restriction violated the rules for bidding on federally funded projects and would unconstitutionally bar otherwise qualified vendors.

New Jersey, however, tried every which way to have its way. Late last year Gov. James McGreevey issued an executive order to activate the pay-to-play ban. The Federal Highway Administration said the move didn’t jibe with federal contracting guidelines and proceeded to freeze $347 million in federal dollars for New Jersey projects. The state went to court, but was denied by a U.S. district judge.

McGreevey must have left his bag of tricks near the front door of the governor’s mansion, because it wasn’t long before new leader Richard Codey actually amended the executive order sans projects earmarked for federal funds. The state legislature went on to turn the executive order into state law, and Codey slapped a conditional veto on the bill and removed the federally funded highway projects before signing it. He then asked New Jersey’s Congressional delegation to pursue a change in federal law that would encourage the enforcement of the pay-to-play restriction. The House actually included such an amendment to its version of the highway bill, but the Senate declined.

New Jersey was still determined to have its own pay-to-play law, but U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler cut the power to the party when he agreed with the federal position.

Needless to say, Codey was devastated by the decision. “[The ruling] reinforces the need to amend the federal transportation funding bill with language upholding New Jersey’s pay-to-play ban,” he told New Jersey’s Star Ledger. “The people of our state understand how important it is to ensure the accountability of government.”

Deputy Attorney General Richard Harcar, representing the state during this case, believes campaign donators should be treated the same way as criminals when it comes time to submit a bid. Both should be banned from the process.

“We are contending here that the actual taking of political contributions above a certain limit can have an effect on contracts,” Harcar told the Ledger. “It is not immoral to give political contributions, but there can be a perception of impropriety once it gets above a certain limit.”

I can understand the blackballing of a contractor that has stood before a judge and has been convicted of a specific crime. But how can a state discourage the involvement of someone who might believe he’s doing his or her patriotic duty by pledging to a favorite politician? Because that is indeed what it might be all about—honest financial support.

To stand there and scrutinize every political penny is going off the deep end. Why would a state be so concerned about a donation over $3,000? Perhaps $25,000 would raise an eyebrow, but $3,000? I know a few private individuals who hand out that much and you don’t see anyone placing a microscope on their motivation.

And what if Blacktop Inc. made an offer as high as $25,000 to Randy Representative? Would it really slant the bidding process? I have heard of politicians earmarking federal funds for projects, but I’m not sure how many of them are able to hand pick the contractors. Has there been an influx of this type of activity taking place in New Jersey? If not then I think it’s fair to say the state is abusing its power. Lets face it; the odds of a politically tainted $3,000 could be about the same as winning the lottery.

About The Author: Bill Wilson, Editor in Chief, [email protected]

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