HOBOKEN -- On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, with Councilman Ravinder Bhalla by her side, announced a city ethics reform package which would target, among other issues, the campaign finance issue of "wheeling." The proposal is being put before the City Council in advance of the six May council elections.
Wheeling is a term used to describe the funneling of money through other means (such as political action committees) to candidates exceed personal campaign limits.
Some of the more sweeping proposed changes, which have been controversially attached to a Pay-to-Play ordinance to be presented to the City Council, would include a limit on outside Political Action Committees (PACs) donating to Hoboken and a limit on PACs that are self financed by more than 75 percent from donating more than $500 to Hoboken candidates. Currently, PACs can donate up to $8,200. PACs from Hoboken that are not self financed would still be permitted to donate $8,200.
Councilman Ravinder Bhalla, a sponsor of the legislation, said in an interview earlier this week that the "catalyst" for the legislation was Councilwoman Beth Mason's donations to Councilman Tim Occhipinti before the November election between former Councilman Michael Lenz (a Zimmer supporter) and Occhipinti. Mason donated the maximum limit of $2,600, as did her husband, to Occhipinti's campaign in the November's election. Mason's PAC also donated $8,200, the maximum allowed.
Mason said that what she did was not illegal, something that both sides have agreed is true. However, the new legislation would make her actions unlawful in the future.
Critics of the legislation claim the new legislation may not stand up to a serious legal challenge. Zimmer has said the proposed legislation was approved through the corporation counsel's office and found to be constitutional. Mason has also said she has had lawyers look at the legislation as it is proposed, and she said her attorneys have found it to be unconstitutional.
For more on this story, see this weekend's Hoboken Reporter.
Other issues in the ethics reform package include mandatory ethics and anti-sexual harassment training for all public employees, a ban on workplace violence, a ban on nepotism, and a ban on political fundraising on public property, among other changes. - Ray Smith