An ambiguous New Jersey political action committee (PAC) that was formed at the end of July and currently linked to the Hoboken ward council races has been given the green light to have a Democratic mainstay, Stephanie Wohlrab, to serve as their fundraiser.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Your request for an AO (advisory opinion) asked whether an independent expenditure committee can retain the services of Stephanie Wohlrab, a professional campaign fundraiser (PCFR), who is also a ‘candidate,'” New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission Legal Director Demery Roberts wrote in an August 28th letter to Rebeca Moll Freed from Genova Burns LLC.
” … You are advised that NJCI may retain the services of Ms. Wohlrab, a PCFR who is also a candidate, and remain in compliance with N.J.S.A. 19:44A-9(h), as long as her activities are limited to fund raising and she is not involved directly or indirectly with management or control of NJCI.”
As a fundraiser, she has previously worked with high-profile clients that include U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, as well as serving as the finance chair of both the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and the state Senate Majority Office.
Wohlrab is also the president of the Brick Board of Education.
In a report yesterday that centered around outside counsel recommending Hoboken consider a repeal of their pay-to-play laws, HCV noted that multiple sources had indicated that NJ Community Initiatives would be involved with the Hoboken municipal elections.
According to a copy of Wohlrab’s 2017 personal disclosure statement with the New Jersey Department of Education’s School Ethics Commission, she had performed fundraising duties for 16 candidates across the state that year, including then-Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her successor Ravi Bhalla, who was a councilman-at-large at the time.
Zimmer was initially expected to seek a third term, but ended up deciding not to run in June 2017 and instead supported Bhalla for mayor.
A search of NJ ELEC’s website showed that Zimmer’s campaign paid $1,800 Wohlrab for work as a fundraising consultant on February 21st, 2017. No other disbursements pertaining to the Mile Square City could be located on their website.
As previously noted, little is known about the PAC beyond their mission statement, which says, in part, that they intend “to strengthen New Jersey communities by promoting social justice issues” and support both local and statewide candidates.
Additionally, Louis Venezia, the chief of the Bloomfield Fire Department and Mayor Michael Venezia’s brother, is the chair of the PAC and Peter Nichols is the treasurer.
Venezia deferred comment to a spokesman, who left it up in the air who the entity would be supporting this election cycle, while Nichols did not return multiple inquiries seeking comment.
According to documents obtained by HCV, Wohlrab had initially organized NJCI as a federal PAC through the Federal Election Commission on June 5th, where she was slated to serve as the treasurer and Louis Venezia would act as the assistant treasurer.
However, just over a month later, on July 8th, the FEC sent Wohlrab a letter indicating that they had “accepted a valid termination” of the PAC prior to the organization raising any money.
The rationale of why the PAC decided to register with NJ ELEC instead of the FEC remains fairly vague based on an explanation Freed gave to Demery in an August 14th letter.
” … After discussion with our firm and following a process of identifying and refining the objectives and goals of the committee, we advised NJCI that, based on its proposed objective of strengthening New Jersey communities by supporting social justice issues … the committee should be registered with the Commission and not with the FEC.”
Wohlrab came under fire last year after voting on a contract, as a Brick BOE trustee, for Fairview Insurance on June 28th, 2018, which came after the firm had donated an aggregate amount of $28,000 to a federal super PAC she was running, Brick Shorebeat reported.
“America’s Urban Future” was founded by Wohlrab in August 2017 and was closed by October 17th, 2018 after the FEC asked her to provided clarity on payments she made to herself from the PAC, Shorebeat wrote last year.
Wohlrab did not return an inquiry seeking comment on Tuesday.