Hoboken council to consider amending pay-to-play rules to raise union donation limit to $7,200


The Hoboken City Council will consider amending their pay-to-play rules to raise the local union donation limit from $500 under their stringent rules to $7,200, which is permitted under state guidelines.

Photo via Google Maps.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

During the tail end of the 2019 ward council elections, Council-at-Large members Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour repeatedly introduced a non-binding resolution asking for the council to support the enforcement of the city’s pay-to-play rules.

The measure never received a vote and came about a month after outside counsel recommended the Mile Square City repeal their pay-to-play laws, which they never did.

Now, Jabbour is sponsoring an ordinance with 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, who was a candidate in 2019, that would amend the rules for unions.

“This was an issue that came up in the [2019] campaign: I was annoyed that the city council couldn’t take the stance that the pay-to-play rules should be enforced. At the time, Councilman DeFusco was raising boat loads of money from the unions. He was stressing that he was following state rules and the local rules were unenforceable,” Cohen said over the phone.

“I’ve got good working relationships with the unions that worked on this campaign and they’ve got a first amendment right to participate in the process: I don’t see a problem. I think unions have an important role in democracy, I don’t think it’s tainting the process. Having unions represent workers and workers’ right is something I really care about.”

He added that the $500 limit would remain in place for developers and PACs. Just prior to the 2019 elections, City Clerk Jimmy Farina filed a complaint against DeFusco alleging he violated the city’s pay-to-play rules that remains unresolved.

This election cycle, Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who ran unopposed, and his council slate of Doyle, Jabbour, and first time candidate Joe Quintero received endorsements from big labor unions such as SEIU 32BJ and the Hotel Trades Council.

Hoboken’s pay-to-play rules are among the most strict in the state and were adopted under Bhalla’s predecessor, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, about a decade ago when he served as a councilman-at-large.

According to Council President Ruben Ramos, who unsuccessfully challenged Zimmer in 2013, this is typical political hijinks from this administration.

“To the victor goes the spoils. It’s certainly reversing a lot of what the Zimmer administration tried to implement for a number of years: let’s see what happens Wednesday evening on first reading,” Council President Ruben Ramos said.

2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher also blasted the ordinance for essentially the same reasons, along with the fact that the majority of the union contracts are still up in the air.

“Wasn’t the crux of the Zimmer era reform movement to curtail influencing campaign contributions and limit outside money into Hoboken’s local elections?,” she began.

“You have to ask why Mayor Bhalla and Councilmembers Jabbour and Cohen what to undo these good government policies and support quid pro quo politics again that only favor elected officials interests over Hoboken residents and taxpayers. There is always a trade – and I see the shakedown of our five city employee unions who have been without a contract for four years in the near future.”

City spokeswoman Marilyn Baer said that repealing this one aspect of pay-to-play would no longer curtail union participation in local elections.

“The City of Hoboken’s more restrictive campaign finance ordinance was originally crafted to curtail the influence of PAC’s in local elections, but it had the unintended consequence of curtailing local union participation,” she wrote in an email.

“This amendment would simply correct that and allow unions to financially contribute during elections as allowed under New Jersey State law. The ordinance is being introduced now to allow ample time for future candidates to familiarize themselves with the change ahead of future elections.”

If approved on first reading on Wednesday, the second reading of the measure would go before the council on December 15th.

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  1. If they were truly concerned about increasing the limit just for unions then it would be to $2,600 which is the legal limit for union contributions, similar to an individual. It does not need to go higher than that.

    The fact that they want to increase to $7,200 implies they want a union to contribute to a Hoboken Political committee or a PAC (as the link below shows) not to a Candidate committee.

    Somethings isn’t right here.


    • Curious how Fisher, in bed with (figure of speech) Hoboken’s most egregious flouter of Hoboken’s P2P ordinance, Mike DeFusco, and notorious VBM harvester Ramos, objects to making the same donations comply with local law.

      Never heard of unions or corporations or individuals making legal donations to PACs? When did you fall off the turnip truck?

      • Ramos never had Raia collect VBMs for him like Dawn Zimmer did
        So many shady ballots she had to resign and run again

        When did Ramos run a Vbm operation with Raia?
        Name it… date you.
        Slander is costly

    • See what Ravi holds as his top priority: undoing Reform so he can reward his Terror Flier big development allies and the bullseye on Hoboken for big development. Look at how Ravi seeks to undo Dawn Zimmer’s Reform ordinance, the very ordinance he voted for but now he aims to cash in for himself and his crew as Hoboken goes under the bus. Up next: Council President Russo!

      If you’re wondering if any of Ravi’s political operatives find this problematic, stop wondering. They are enemies of the Hoboken Reform Movement. Now everyone knows.

  2. I was just about to say how nice it is here at HCV again, now that the election is over and all the wannabe political hacks and basement dwellers have buggered off. alas, I imagine a few of them will trickle back for this one.

  3. The link shows that a Union can only contribute 2600 to a candidate committee. The 8200 would be for a Political Committee or Continuing Political Committee(PAC) donating to a candidate.

    So unless they reword it to say a Union PAC, it still doesnt make sense.

    And yes, unions and corporations can make donations to PACS, but a candidate committee is not a PAC and any donation given to a PAC by a union is probably not governed by Hoboken laws as they have no jurisdiction.

    • Peruse Ramos’ 2011 ELECs as an LD33 Assembly candidate. That was some harvest! A bumper crop of VBMs! Not even the Farmers Almanac predicted it.

  4. Hoboken originally justified it’s $500 limitation on political committees, including union political committees, on an urgent and legitimate concern about wheeling – the practice of laundering otherwise illegal excess contributions through other entities. In both the 2007 City Council election and the 2009 mayoral election substantial sums we’re wheeled into Hoboken campaigns by passing the excess funds through political committees.

    However, union political committees are funded entirely by the union – so they cannot be used as a vehicle for wheeling. The inclusion of unions was likely a legal overreach, putting the legality of the entire ordinance at risk. By carving out unions, Hoboken would significantly strengthen it’s legal position if it’s anti-wheeling law were to be challenged in Court, as it surely would be if it were actually enforced.

    I think the union limitation was good public policy. Construction unions are indistinguishable from developers with the same conflict of interest in development decisions, and city employee unions have a direct conflict of interest in choosing who will sit on the other side of the table when contracts are negotiated. Still, if applying the anti-wheeling law to union committees is not legally sustainable it’s better to carve it out so that the rest of the law can be vigorously enforced.

    This position assumes, however, that the questionable legality of applying the limitation to union committees was the reason why no effort was ever made to enforce the law, is the reason for now carving them out, and that the remaining law will now be fully enforced once union committees are stripped out.

    If, even without applying to unions, the law is continues to not be enforced, the whole law should be repealed. The City attorneys who opined the old law was illegal and unenforceable should be asked to provide their opinion that with this change the law can now be enforced. If they cannot provide that opinion the whole damn thing should be repealed.

    Keeping a law on the books that can simply be ignored has the perverse effect of giving an unfair advantage to candidates who violate the law, making those who comply into naive suckers.

    In 2013, both Mayor Zimmer and Councilman Ramos complied with the law but in 2017 Councilman DeFusco completely ignored it without consequence. Once that occurred, the existing law basically became moot since candidates knew it would not be enforced.

    So to me, the choices are fix it so that the City’s lawyers agree it’s legal, and then fully enforce it, or acknowledge that this particular reform effort, well intentioned as it was, has failed and get rid the whole thing.

    • If the 2011 legislation is “at risk” then where’s a single legal challenge in over a decade?

      Beth Mason called it illegal and never used her husband’s dough to challenge it in court. Mason stomped all over the law with the Nazi Truck Move Forward slate in the 2012 BoE election. She ignored the admonition from the Hoboken counsel office and thumbed her nose at the rule.

      Who had a hand in writing the Hoboken anti-wheeling ordinance without any enforcement provision?

      Ravi Bhalla.

      So go scratch.

  5. “If the 2011 legislation is “at risk” then where’s a single legal challenge in over a decade?

    Obviously you are unfamiliar with how the American legal system works. You can’t just challenge the law in court. In order for there to be a legal challenge, there would need to be an attempt to enforce it. There has been no legal challenge only because no attempt has ever been made to enforce the law.

    “Who had a hand in writing the Hoboken anti-wheeling ordinance without any enforcement provision?”

    Obviously you’ve never read the law since if you had you would know that it not only has an enforcement provision, it even provides for private citizens to go commence an enforcement action if the the City fails to do so.

    That said, I agree that the law if it’s not repealed, needs sharper teeth, especially since any fear of a political backlash from violating the law disappeared when Councilman DeFusco paid no political price. Councilwoman Giattino and Fisher put the final nail in the coffin when they first filed a “complaint” in 2017 and then climbed in bed with him after the election. Apparently their feigned interest in good government was quickly trumped by their hatred of Mayor Bhalla. Of course, since their hypocrisy has no bounds, I’m sure they will now rediscover their fervent belief in Hoboken’s anti-wheeling law.

  6. City Clerk Farina followed the Hoboken’s p2p enforcement provsion by filing a complaint against Mike DeFusco in Hudco Superior Court, whete it languished and died. If the City cannot prevail in court against our p2p violators, then we need to revisit our law. What a know-nothing, loudmouth fool you are and will always be.