Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pay-to-Play Restrictions Are Coming with a Price

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pay-to-Play Restrictions Are Coming with a Price

Article excerpt

Republican freeholder Rob Hermansen of Mahwah expects a day of reckoning, sometime in August, over Bergen County's pay-to-play ban.

Hermansen, and Freeholders Maura DeNicola of Franklin Lakes and Democrat David Ganz of Fair Lawn have been mulling over possible changes to the sweeping ban that prevents deep-pocketed donors from winning county contracts. Enacted in December, the ban is one of the most extensive in the state.

But within months after its passage, officials from both parties began complaining that the law went too far. Some thought the law would potentially disqualify any donor who gave to a Bergen official, including those who have no control over the awarding of county contracts, such as state legislators and municipal officials.

Some, like Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Bob Yudin, blasted the law as an unconstitutional encroachment on political speech. He also acknowledged that it was an encroachment on his fundraising since many donors, confused about the law's reach, stopped giving rather than risk losing lucrative government work.

Hermansen said the group has received ideas from local officials that might be the grounds of some changes to the law. They include raising the amount of money that donors can give without fear of triggering the ban. Under the current ban, vendors can give up to $300 to an individual candidate and a combined $2,500 for all candidates during an election.

Exempting state legislators and municipal officials is another possibility. Loosening some of the "wheeling" provisions, which allow large sums of donations from outside the county to be transferred into Bergen races, is another, albeit trickier challenge.

Hermansen, who is running for reelection in November, says the committee will either reach an agreement and make recommendations next month. If that doesn't happen, then the law will probably remain untouched for now.

"We're trying to figure out a way to make it work, but not at the same time handcuff everybody," Hermansen said. …

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