The legislation hopes to end "pay to play," the practice of vendors donating money in hopes of being rewarded with professional services contracts. Such a practice can result in politicians approving overly expensive or unnecessary projects in exchange for campaign support. It is illegal to give out a government contract just because someone donated money, but it can often be hard to prove a correlation. Thus, the resolution aims to cut down the amount that present and future contractors can donate to a candidate.
The resolution, drafted with the assistance of Common Cause NJ and the locally based People for Open Government, two government watchdog groups, will limit contributions by firms seeking contracts with the Board of Education to $400 per year to each school board candidate or officeholder.
They will also limit them to $500 per year to a municipal or county political party committee that supports municipal candidates or officeholders. There is also a $2,500 aggregate that a company and its partners may contribute to a candidate, county, and political party combined if they are seeking a board contract.
The resolution, which was introduced unanimously, is co-sponsored by board members Frank Raia and Theresa Burns.
At the state and city levels
The Board of Education is following a trend that is sweeping the state. Acting Gov. Richard Codey in March signed into law a "pay to play" ban that prohibits campaign contributions by business entities seeking or holding State contracts in certain circumstances.
Codey's signature had made permanent an executive order that then-Gov. James McGreevey signed last year after he announced his resignation. Forty municipalities have enacted their own tougher rules to limit pay to play, including Hoboken. Last November, Hoboken voters, by a 9 to 1 margin, voted to limit contributions on a city level.
But play-to-play reform at a school board level is a relatively new occurrence. Only Berkeley Township's school board currently has a pay to play ban. Old Bridge's Board of Education is also considering a ban. Ann Graham, a spokesperson for the People for Open Government, said Hoboken's introduction of a pay to play ban is a step forward.
"People for Open Government is pleased that the Hoboken Board of Education will consider passing an anti-pay-to-play resolution," Graham said. "The Board of Education's policies must be driven by the needs of our city's children - not those who contribute to campaigns." Burns said now that the city and state have passed pay to play bans, it's more important than ever for the Board of Education to follow suit.
"It's like plumbing," Burns said. "Fixing one leak puts more pressure on the rest of the pipes. We're doing our part to make sure that our little section of plumbing is fixed and has no leaks."
The board's attorney is now reviewing the resolution to ensure that it will hold up in court. A public hearing and final vote could take place as early at the next school board meeting.