Thursday, October 2, 2014

Questioning Cumberland Democrats' civil judgment and its campaign finance reporting.

One area of the law that I am not very familiar with is that regarding political campaign receipts and expenditures.  In order to venture into this area, I've made a few Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests and have reviewed some reports of filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) web site here.

My interest in this issue was piqued by recent newspaper articles regarding the Initiate Civic Empowerment PAC, or ICE PAC for short.  See, e.g. "Delran Mayor Ken Paris employed by PAC that contributed to his campaign," by Jenna Pizzi of the Times of Trenton, August 21, 2014;  "State DCA seeks to review 2 Trenton legal contracts," by Jenna Pizzi of the Times of Trenton, August 6, 2014 and "State ethics complaint dooms embattled law firm from doing work with Trenton," by David Foster of the Trentonian, September 14, 2014.

This is the Political Action Committee that shares a Woodbury address with the law firm Long, Marmero & Associates.  One of the firm's founding partners is Douglas Long, who serves as Deputy Director of the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The following are my determinations based on the records I have reviewed.  I do not claim to have come to the correct determination in each case, and ask that anyone who has more information or corrections to contact me at paff@pobox.com so that I can update this blog entry.  That said, here is what I've found.

On January 3, 2013, a corporation called "Just Four Wheels, Inc." won a $22,167.58 civil judgment against the "Cumberland County Democratic Committee" under Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-1001-11.  The plaintiff, according to its web site, is a car rental company operating out Vineland, New Jersey.

I looked up "Cumberland County Democratic Committee" on the Election Law Enforcement Commission's (ELEC) web site and found no organization listed with that exact name.  I did, however, find an organization called the "Cumberland County Democratic Organization."

In its ELEC filings, the "Cumberland County Democratic Organization" identifies itself as a "PPC."  According to the ELEC publication on-line here, a PPC is a Political Party Committee, which is defined as including "any county committee of a political party organized pursuant to N.J.S.A. 19:5-3."

From this, I gather that "Cumberland County Democratic Committee" and "Cumberland County Democratic Organization" are two names for the same organization and that both names refer to the assembly of the male and female Democratic Party members who were elected from each of Cumberland County's election districts at the most recent primary election.

According to court documents (on-line here) that I received today from Cumberland County in response to an OPRA request to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, the attorney for Just For Wheels, Inc., Steven Mitnick of Frenchtown, in the Spring of 2013, attempted to execute the judgment by levying on the Cumberland County Democratic Committee's bank account at PNC Bank.  The levy was served upon PNC's branch at 638 Landis Avenue, Vineland, on May 20, 2013 by Cumberland County Sheriff's Deputy Jose Rodriguez.  According to the levy's return, PNC Customer Service Representative advised Deputy Rodriguez that "no accounts found."  Thus, the levy was unsuccessful.

Yet, the Cumberland County Democratic Organization's 2nd Quarter 2013 financial report (here - see page 3) shows that the Organization did maintain a bank account at PNC Bank, 638 East Landis Avenue, Vineland with a balance of several thousands of dollars at the time of levy. The only conclusion that I can reach is that PNC Bank did not levy account because the name on the account differed from the name of the judgment debtor (i.e. "Committee" v. "Organization")

Also of interest is a $5,000 contribution the Cumberland County Democratic Organization received from the ICE PAC on February 26, 2014.  See page 4 of the Organization's 1st Quarter 2014 financial report here. The ICE PAC's report (here - page 13) financial report for the 1st Quarter 2014 shows that the PAC issued its $5,000 check, no. 1055, to the Cumberland County Democratic Organization for the stated purpose of "Just for Wheels Payment." Note that this disbursement is listed as a "operating disbursement" on Schedule C rather than as a "monetary contribution made to candidates/committees" on Schedule D.

Among the questions that I have are:

a. Why did a the Cumberland County Democratic Committee/Organization allow itself to become indebted to a car rental company and why would a county political committee need to rent cars?

b. Did the Committee/Organization rent cars often enough to generate a $20,000+ bill?

c. If the Committee/Organization received $20,000 worth of goods or services from Just for Wheels and did not pay for them, is it not obligated to report the value of those services as a contribution?

d. Did the Committee/Organization pay the $5,000 that it received from ICE PAC to Just for Wheels, Inc?

e. Is the judgment now satisfied?

I ask that anyone with any answers or insight please e-mail me.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey