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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Expect Changes As Pay-to-Play Takes Effect

By Jack Fichter

TRENTON — After Jan. 1, a new state law will prevent towns from awarding no bid contracts to lawyers, engineers, and other professionals who donated to elected officials campaigns or party committees.
The practice of giving money to an elected official’s campaign or party, expecting a contract in return, is known as pay-to-play.
Professional positions such as prosecutor, municipal judge, public defender, planning board attorney, engineer, solicitor, auditor, and grant writer would be subject to the new law, if they are paid over $17,500 per year.
The new law requires a “fair and open” bid process that must be announced in a newspaper or on a Web site at least 10 days before bids are opened. The town must include a description of award criteria such as qualifications necessary to be the city’s auditor or solicitor.
Proposals must be opened and announced in public and awarded by the governing body.
The new state law preserves pay-to-play ordinances in 60 municipalities and two counties statewide.
Normal public bidding and competitive contracting under the Public Contracts Law is considered as “fair and open.”
A professional who donated to an elected official or political committee can be awarded a contract under the “fair and open” process.
Towns can also award contracts without using the “fair and open” process and not surprisingly it is called the “non-fair and open” contract.
Under “non fair,” professionals may not have made a contribution to an elected official or party within the last year and a may not contribute during the life of the contract they have with a town. The professional must submit a certification form affirming the above.
They must list contributions to any political candidate or party. The law does not cover Political Action Committees.
Vendors doing business with a city must certify for “non-fair and open” contracts that they did not give reportable contributions to a political party or elected official.
West Cape May Borough Commission discussed changes the law will bring in awarding their contracts at a Dec. 20 meeting. Borough Solicitor Frank Corrado said the law was put in effect too late in the year to allow West Cape May to request bids for professional contracts in the “fair and open” process.
He said the borough would have to use “non-fair” contracts and have professionals sign the certification form, putting the borough in the “same boat” as many other towns. Most towns hold reorganization meetings to appoint professional positions during the first week of the new year.
Lower Township passed a pay to play ordinance in 2004 limiting campaign contributions from a professional or business entity to $250 per year or $500 to any township political committee.
The legislation was introduced by Councilman Michael Beck, who at the time of introduction of the ordinance read a list of contributions to two council candidates in 2000. They included contributions from a paving company, a lawyer, an engineer, and auditor.
Lower Township Manager Kathy McPherson said an affidavit was being sent to professionals who deal with the township. 
Cape May City Manager Luciano V. Corea Jr. questioned how the law could eliminate professionals from entering contracts with the city who made contributions to a mayor or council campaign a year ago, one year before the law was passed. He said the city has modified its bid package to certify a professional has not donated more than $300 to any elected city official.
Cape May does not award professional contracts until its reorganization meeting in July. The city already has a “Pay to Play” ordinance in effect with the same $300 contribution limit as Lower Township. 
If a professional signs an affidavit testifying they have not given money to the campaigns of any city officials but the city finds out they did so, the professional would be banned from doing business with Cape May for four years, according to Corea.
Cape May Point Borough Clerk Connie Mahon said the new pay-to-play law would not have an effect on the borough because its elected officials do not accept any contributions. The Point is a non-partisan community, she said.
The state law also applies to the county government, board, commissions, fire districts, libraries, colleges and authorities such as the Municipal Utilities Authority.
Contact Fichter at: jfichter@cmcherald.com

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