After nearly 3 years, a municipal court judge dismissed a Hoboken campaign finance case against 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, ruling that municipalities cannot impose stricter rules then the state in this instance.
“It is fundamental in our laws that there is an intended right of vote of self-govern beyond the composed state, and that municipalities offer a creation of state, limited in their powers and capable of exercise; only those powers government granted to them by the legislature,” West New York Municipal Court Judge Armando Hernandez ruled this morning.
Hoboken Clerk Jimmy Farina filed a complaint against DeFusco back on October 21st, 2019, alleging that DeFusco received $37,800 from political action committees his 2017 mayoral bid, with another $44,600 coming in from committees for his council race, as HCV first reported.
The downtown councilman wrote the complaint off as a campaign stunt, given that the complaint was filed about two weeks before the 2019 municipal elections – where DeFusco was re-elected by about a 2-1 margin.
“It’s been a very long time to get to this point. Mike is relieved that it’s over and the court decision speaks for itself,” Steve Kleinman, counsel to DeFusco in the matter, said over the phone this morning.
Back in December, the city council approved a measure co-sponsored by 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen and Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour to raise the local union donation limit from $500 to $7,200 – the amount allowed by state guidelines.
With a lawsuit from 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher lingering, claiming that substantive changes had been made between first and second reading, the council approved the measure again in February.
The changes included a “trigger mechanism” that ensured that the local legislation wouldn’t take effect unless the case between Farina and DeFusco ended with the campaign finance rules deemed unenforceable.
City spokeswoman Marilyn Baer says they plan on still enforcing their pay-to-play rules as it relates to labor donations. She did not comment on the status of the aforementioned ordinance.
” … While the City’s position has been to enforce these laws, as previously requested by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, which includes fines for campaign contributions over Hoboken’s local permitted limit, the Court’s determination provides important legal clarity on how the City should move forward,” she said.
“The ruling does not change Hoboken’s strong pay-to-play laws which will continue to be enforced. The administration looks forward to putting this matter in the rearview mirror and continuing to work with all stakeholders on good government policies on behalf of the residents of Hoboken.”