Hoboken to consider repealing their pay-to-play laws? Outside counsel says they should


A letter prepared by outside counsel states that the City of Hoboken should consider repealing their stringent pay-to-play rules in favor of the statewide regulations since the current law is unenforceable and therefore not helpful in preventing corruption.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“Hoboken’s limit set forth in §20D lowers the permissible contribution of a union by $2,100.00 for an individual candidate and does not contain any statement or explanation within the ordinance as to the relationship between this amount and the legitimate governmental interest,” Raymond Hamlin, of the Paterson law firm Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley, wrote in a September 3rd letter to Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia.

“Further, it is being alleged by entities within Hoboken that this limit is prohibiting them from effectively advocating for their interests. I opine that this extreme decrease in the permissible contribution amount has a strong possibility of being found as unconstitutionally low if challenged in that it prevents candidates and political committees from amassing the resources necessary for effective advocacy … ”

Hamlin explains that his law office began reviewing Hoboken’s pay-to-play ordinance after Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association President Joel Mestre alleged that the local legislation is unconstitutional since the maximum contribution limits prevent the union from being able to advocate effectively.

However, adding further confusion to the matter is that in an email forwarded to HCV on Tuesday, Mestre wrote to the city council on August 1st that he would like to rescind his July 24th letter, specifically requesting for “no action to be taken at this time.”

Under state guidelines, the maximum contribution a union can make to an individual candidate is $2,600, while the most they can donate to a political group or entity is $7,200.

However, under Hoboken’s current pay-to-play law, a political action committee, which would include unions, can only write a $500 check for an individual candidate.

“I opine that this extreme decrease in the permissible contribution amount has a strong possibility of being found as unconstitutionally low if challenged in that it prevents candidates and political committees from amassing the resources necessary for effective advocacy, and there appears to be no justification for the significant reduction or any close relationship between the governmental interests and the greatly reduced amount,” Hamlin wrote.

He also notes that there are significant issues with the enforcement portion of the policy, noting that there is no definitive language to explain how the City Clerk, or anyone else, would be able to force candidates to pay fines up to “four times the amount of the contribution.”

Additionally, Hamlin is critical of banning “redevelopers” from making political contributions, since the definition and time frame on the books are quite broad.

“The current version of the ordinance would prevent a redeveloper from entering into a redevelopment agreement in 2020, if said redeveloper’s adult child made any reportable donation to a Hoboken elected official in 2010 (the year the property was approved for an investigation),” he states in the letter.

“Although there is a slight chance that the redeveloper’s child made a donation ten years prior to the redevelopment agreement with the intention that said donation would give his father to have preferential treatment in the future, it is just as likely (if not more likely) that said grown child made the donation in support of his own political speech and did not have any idea of the future redevelopment agreement.”

He continues that such legislation would not be helpful in “preventing corruption at the time a redevelopment agreement is entered.”

Hamlin concludes that adhering to the state guidelines would likely only take “future legislation” being passed by the city.

Hoboken spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri said that the legal opinion is being taken into consideration, but that no decisions have been made at this time.

“Given the legal opinion received by the city, the council and administration will contemplate potential modifications to the pay-to-play rules, if any, in the coming months.”

Therefore, it seems unlikely that the city would push for a pay-to-play law repeal before the November 5th municipal elections, given that five incumbents are seeking re-election and Mayor Ravi Bhalla is officially running candidates against four of them.

The legal opinion comes at a time when rumors of a super PAC getting involved in the Mile Square City this fall are swirling, however, getting the group to confirm as such has proven nearly impossible.

NJ Community Initiatives is chaired by Louis Venezia, the chief of the Bloomfield Fire Department and the mayor’s brother, according to a July 29th filing with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

“The organization’s agenda is to strengthen New Jersey communities by promoting social justice issues and to independently support candidates on a local and state level who share the organization’s vision for a better New Jersey,” the filing says.

When asked for comment, Venezia directed media inquiries to Timothy White, of River Crossing Strategy Group.

However, when reached by HCV, White said he was not a spokesman for the PAC and was not working with the group at all due to a conflict.

After reaching out to Venezia again to inform him of White’s comments, HCV received an email from Sean Darcy, a principal at Round World Consulting, about three hours later.

“New Jersey Community Initiatives is still evaluating where they will be supporting candidates and no determinations have been made at this point,” he said in an email, not responding to a phone call or text message seeking further comment.

Nevertheless, multiple sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that the current plan is for the PAC to be involved in the Hoboken council races.

According to the aforementioned ELEC filing, the group estimates raising $150,000 this calendar year, approximating that $100,000 will be spent on “New Jersey election-related activity” in 2019.


Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information.

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  1. They want to get the developer and union money and don’t want anyone mentioning that it violates Hoboken statutes even if they are unenforceable. Take a wild guess which dark siders from the Re$istance want the law repealed. Take another wild guess which ex-reform doofuses will be playing apologist for this pac. Same ones who ignored the pac money behind bringing back runoffs.

  2. The excerpts provide the lawyer’s conclusions but none of the legal analysis, and, while I agree that there may be issues with Hoboken’s laws being overbroad, and perhaps pre-empted by state law, and enforcing them could be problematic (though it would have been nice for the City to have at least tried), the constitutional argument here, particularly the idea that $500 is unconstitutionally low, seems to me to be more the lawyer’s personal opinion than anything grounded in settled constitutional law.

    That said, it makes no sense to have laws that everyone complies with but Mike DeFusco. In 2013, both Zimmer and Ramos both fully complied with the law, refunding contributions over Hoboken’s legal limits, and Hoboken had an election largely free of self interested outside financial influence, perhaps for the very first time ever.

    By brazenly ignoring Hoboken’s pay to play/anti-wheeling laws and suffering zero consequences Mike DeFusco broke our system in 2017.

    Now that the system is broken, it needs to be fixed. The law should be revised as needed to make it as strong as legally possible and as easily and effectively enforceable as possible, and then it should be vigorously enforced.

    Hopefully outside council provided recommendations to do that beyond whats included in this story. If the lawyer opined that a $500 limit was unconstitutionally low without opining as to what limit would pass scrutiny then he has done only 1/2 of his job.

  3. LOL…the article plainly says the issue was raised by a letter prepared by outside counsel, and the mayor’s office says they, Hoboken corporate council and the city council will review it and determine what, if anything, they should do.

    Not that facts matter to the knee-jerk, rain man-like anti-Bhalla commenter(s) who spams HCV all day.

    Reading in fundamental.

    • Yeah, the Hoboken municipal union just took it upon themselves to try and undo the pay-to-play law.
      The clowns in the mayor’s office had nothing to do with that heavyhanded maneuver.
      Yeah, that’s the ticket, the Ravi Bhalla ticket.

      Caught yet again.

      • Sigh. As always, a bunch of “hey, it could be plausible” fantasy with not one shred of a fact in site. What facts do you have to back up that claim? Any? One? A half of one? Everyone knows you just make sh%t up because it suits your creepy rain man-like anti-Bhalla obsession.

        • The fact that a municipal union after eight years of the pay to play law in 2011 passed didn’t generate a peep?

          Or that fact and the limp deflection you’re running from that everyone was right about the problems and dangers of Ravi Bhalla proving you WRONG!

          Now go back to the effing cave. Ravi & Allen are behind the effort and are pissing on the grave of the Reform Movement.

          Good work HCV smoking these douchebags out.
          Suck it up buttercup.

          • Just curious, is English your second language. Because your comment makes no sense, can you please try to restate it? I’d really like to understand your point but the sentence structure is unclear and the logic is confused. Thanks.

          • That’s not a useful defense of Ravi going for the green, the usual. Hey, try again or just admit it. Everyone was right about Ravi and you were wrong.

          • @Sucker, you sound very similar to commenter ETF!, strange that. Neither one of you are able to tell residents why they should vote for DeFusco, neither can come up with one accomplishment of his that was positive for people in his ward. Just one. Please. Try. Think, hard.

            Also, neither of you seem to be able to articulate a clear thought. What ARE you talking about?

  4. Developer Frank Raia gave Councilman DeFusco close to $10,000.00 when he ran for mayor last year. Why ?

    Councilwoman Fisher raised what she claimed were serious allegations of Councilman DeFusco braking the campaign funding rules but went silent when both Councilwoman Giattinno failed in their attempt to get elected mayor. Why ?

    Councilwoman Fisher still has a funding appeal on her Facebook for a rabidly anti-Bhalla political website. Why ?

    After all their attempted political attacks that have collapsed under the weight of the facts and vicious personal attacks isn’t time to see their hysterics for what they truly are ?

    • Ravi says Frank Raia is an asset to Hoboken. Why? People get bored with your limp Ravi deflection with years-old pablum. Why not go do some palm cards for an hour and have him pay you $1200 again?