In light of a legal opinion from outside counsel, Hoboken officials, including Mayor Ravi Bhalla, have decided that they will try to enforce their current pay-to-play laws through the November 5th ward council races, after which they’ll consider making changes.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Recently, my Administration had the opportunity to review a legal opinion prepared by outside counsel on the City of Hoboken’s pay-to-play reform and related campaign finance ordinances,” Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in a statement.
“That opinion found aspects of our laws problematic and recommended the complete repeal of the City’s campaign finance legal framework. I reject this throw the baby out with the bath water approach. When I ran for Mayor, I abided by our City’s laws and I believe all candidates running should do the same. I remain absolutely steadfast in my commitment to honest government and I will continue to defend Hoboken’s elections from outside influence from developers and special interests.”
The mayor continued that he expects all candidates to “adhere to the same set of fundraising rules,” applauding Council members-at-Large James Doyle and Emily Jabbour for putting up a resolution for next week’s council meeting reaffirming the current pay-to-play regulations.
As HCV first reported, Ray Hamlin, of the law firm Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley recommended that the city repeal their pay-to-play regulations since they may be unconstitutional and are unenforceable.
Under state law, political action committees can donate up to $2,600 to individual candidates, but in the Mike Square City, they can only donate a maximum of $500.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco wrote off the resolution as an election season stunt to steer the conversation away from a super PAC, NJ Community Initiatives, which is expected to get involved in the council races.
“This is a blatant attempt by the Mayor to distract attention away from the fact that his slate of Council candidates is being supported by a powerful, dark money Super PAC controlled by the city’s health insurance vendor,” DeFusco said in a response.
“The Mayor and his allies can continue trying to divert attention, but what Hoboken voters truly care about is the integrity of our upcoming election. That’s why at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting I will be introducing a resolution denouncing the influence of dark money on our local politics and calling on all Council candidates to reject support from Super PACs.”
In response, Bhalla spokesman Rob Horowitz said that DeFusco has routinely violated the city’s pay-to-play laws in the past, which is why his vote next week will be significant.
“Mike DeFusco can keep trying to change the subject and running away from his record, but he can’t hide. His moment of truth is Wednesday night,” Horowitz said.
“His vote on the resolution will speak volumes about whether or not he plans to continue to blatantly violate the very Hoboken laws that are designed to protect the integrity of our elections and city contracting process,” pointing out that 2nd Ward Councilwoman filed a complaint with the city about DeFusco’s fundraising practices back in October 2017.
However, the matter was never discussed or considered since the current pay-to-play laws are unenforceable.
As far as the PAC, which was incorporated on July 29th, is concerned, no one has commented on which candidates they’ll be supporting or even which municipalities they’ll be involved in this election cycle.
Nevertheless, DeFusco, as he did our TV show yesterday, has accused Fairview Insurance of being behind the operation.
Stephanie Wohlrab, a professional fundraiser and the Brick Board of Education president, has been hired to raise money for the PAC.
She came under fire last year after she voted on Fairview contract with the Brick BOE after they had donated $28,000 to a different super PAC she had formed, Brick Shorebeat reported.
Additionally, Louis Venezia, the chair of NJ Community Initiatives, is the chief of the Bloomfield Fire Department and also the brother of Mayor Michael Venezia, a township that uses Fairview as their health insurance provider.
Fairview Insurance did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday.