The Feb. 20 edition of The Hoboken Reporter carries an ad on page 3 headlined “Thank You Hoboken POG.” Like everyone else, People for Open Government (POG) is always glad to receive encouragement and praise. At the same time, the ad could give the impression that POG supports particular political officeholders or candidates. This is not the case. POG is a non-partisan organization whose bylaws forbid municipal elected officials, candidates, or campaign managers from serving on its Board of Directors. In working to make city government more open and accountable, our Board leaves personal political views at the door. POG’s mission is to offer an alternative path to good government from the one provided by the electoral process.
POG’s history has been short but eventful. In 2003, a group of Hoboken residents, concerned about the corrupting influence of money in politics, founded POG. Since that time, we have been successful in getting a series of important reform measures put into effect in Hoboken. In 2004, the City administration agreed to two of our ordinances but refused to adopt the one that prohibits “pay-to-play” in public contracting. After collecting the required signatures, and defeating two legal challenges mounted by the City administration, POG was able to place this ordinance on the ballot for the General Election of November 2004. Hoboken voters approved the measure by an almost 10 to 1 margin. Several years later, by threatening another ballot initiative, POG was able to force the City Council to pass a redeveloper “pay-to-play” ordinance. The impact of these two ordinances on Hoboken politics has been dramatic. Large donations from real estate developers and professional firms looking to be rewarded with public contracts have virtually disappeared. Because of what we did, the “level political playing field” does in fact exist. It may not be perfect, but the difference is like night and day. On March 2, the Hoboken City Council will vote on our updated “pay-to-play” ordinance. We trust that it will be approved unanimously.
From the beginning, POG has been concerned with “wheeling,” the practice of making large donations to political action committees that are then funneled into local campaigns. This practice may have increased as “pay-to-play” laws have become more effective in blocking large payments directly to candidates. We are consulting with our attorneys and the Citizens Campaign on this issue, as well as with government officials in other counties. We will be proposing a draft ordinance to limit this practice in the near future.
President, People for Open Government