Crabb: Sussex County doesn't deserve transparency

It's the law.  New Jersey election law is administered by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC).  On Page 38 of NJELEC's Compliance Manual for Candidates (published in 2013), every candidate for county office is given notice that he or she is mandated to do the following:

"File a copy of every election fund report (reports filed at the 29-day and 11-day period and 20-day post-election period, along with quarterly reports) with the county clerk in the county where the candidate(s) seek(s) office."

Unfortunately for the taxpayers and citizens of Sussex County, Freeholder Phil Crabb couldn't be bothered with filing with the county clerk. 

We've already seen that in 2011 Crabb was years behind filing his campaign finance reports and that since 2011 he has been consistently late in filing his reports.  But that only covers what he is obliged by law to file in Trenton, with NJELEC.  As far as following the law and filing with the county clerk in Sussex County, Crabb has pretty much ignored that.

And that's a problem, because Sussex County residents shouldn't have to drive two hours each way to Trenton to get a legal copy of what their elected representatives have been up to.  It should be available from their County Clerk, in Newton.  It should be available not only as a courtesy to the taxpayers of Sussex County, it should be available because that is the law.

Ever hear of the movie Casino Jack?  It is based on the true story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

 It makes the case for citizens to be curious about who is giving their elected officials money and why.  That goes for Sussex County as it goes for the rest of America.

Since getting out of prison Jack Abramoff has cleaned up his act and now offers straight advice from someone who knows why business people, vendors, and other interest groups invest in political campaigns.

People need to know who is giving politicians money.  They should know.  It is their right to know.  It is the law.  But Phil Crabb doesn't think so.


The Party Bosses forgot to tie Crabb's shoelaces.

Every elected official in Sussex County places his or her hand on a bible and swears to uphold the laws of the State of New Jersey.  Election law is part of that.  After the wretched Watergate scandal, reforms were enacted to ensure that the taxpayers and citizens would have the right to know who gives money to the people they elect to office to work for them.  The politicians didn't ban the legal bribery of special interest money, but they at least promised to make sure that everyone would know where the money was coming from.  It's called "transparency".

But transparency only works if politicians follow the law. 

Freeholder Phil Crabb has made a career out of ignoring the law.  In 2011, it got so bad and became such an embarrassment that the other elected officials in Sussex County were going to toss him off their ticket.  Since then, those elected officials haven't done a very good job of keeping their boy on the straight and narrow. 

According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC ), Freeholder Crabb filed his October 15, 2013, report on January 21, 2014.  That was the same day he filed his January 15, 2014, report.  But Crabb didn't report what he was required to report until April 15, 2014.  Crabb's July 15, 2013, report was filed on July 18, 2013; April 15, 2013, was filed on April 26, 2013; January 15, 2013, on January 31, 2013; October 15, 2012, on October 19, 2012; July 15, 2012, on July 17, 2012; April 15, 2012, on April 23, 2012; and January 15, 2012, on April 23, 2012.

Hey, has anybody seen Crabb's April 15, 2014 report?

Looks like somebody needs to hold Freeholder Crabb's hand to make sure he follows the law.  

Freeholder Crabb's last re-election was held on November 8, 2011.  His 20-day Post Election report was filed on January 9, 2012.  You do the math.

Those elected officials who have put their oaths of office on the line by condoning this behavior with their words and their money should wise up before they face a big embarrassment.  Your boy acts like a dodo and just because he's a safe vote for the powers that be doesn't mean that he should get a pass on following the law.  It is incumbent upon you, his supporters, to make sure that his shoes are properly tied each and every report time. To date, you have not done your job very well. 

Taxpayers and citizens may have to put up with the legal bribery that goes on.  We shouldn't have to put up with a lack of transparency too.


The Coziness of a One-Party County

Last Thursday night there was a campaign fundraiser for Freeholder Phil Crabb, who has become a kind of cause célèbre for the network of insiders who run most of what happens in Sussex County.  We won't go as far as George Carlin and call them "the owners" but often, it appears that way.

Crabb's event was a packed house and he collected a lot of money.  It was a very different story three years ago when Crabb was up for re-election.  Then his fundraiser managed to attract less than two dozen people and his campaign finance reports were anemic.  Ah, Crabb's campaign finance reports.

Three years ago Phil Crabb was under a lot of pressure.  He was up for re-election and was relentlessly peppered by party officials, county officials, freeholders, legislators, and operatives to clean up his act and file campaign finance reports that were then four years overdue.  These officials met with Crabb and sent him written emails that demanded that he follow the law or else they would push him off the ticket.  After assuring them many times that he had filed, which turned out to be untrue, Crabb finally did file and has, on occasion, filed on time since.

Phil Crabb broke New Jersey election law again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, well, you get the idea.  It is the one consistent thing that defines his career as a Sussex County politician.

Crabb has been extraordinarily lucky in that nobody has ever filed a complaint against him with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.  Others who have done what Crabb did, but on far fewer occasions, have faced fines and penalties of tens of thousands of dollars.  In neighboring Morris County we have this example:

The N.J. Election Law Enforcement Commission also has accused (Freeholder Hank) Lyon of four violations of campaign finance laws during the 2011 Republican primary. Each violation could result in a maximum $6,800 fine.

One alleged violation involves a $16,000 loan made to the campaign a week before the primary but not reported until July 8. The state says that because the contribution was more than $1,200, it should have been reported within 48 hours.

Another alleged violation occurred when Lyon and his father certified the information on the loan and campaign report was correct but that they changed it in a subsequent report. Initially, Lyons reported that he had made the loan but it was later changed to identify Robert Lyon as the contributor, the state said.

Additionally, the state claims the information about the contribution was submitted after the June 27 deadline.

Further, the complaint says that $16,795 in expenditures were listed on July 8 but were due on June 27. (

Last month, Freeholder Lyon was formally reprimanded by NJELEC and fined $8,100 for his late filing.  Lyon had only four violations, as opposed to the dozens Freeholder Crabb faces.

This leaves some people questioning why Crabb, who enjoyed only limited support in 2011, now has almost all the insiders supporting him in 2014.  Are they, with their words and their dollars, condoning behavior that they, as officials sworn to uphold the law, should have reported?  Why the radical turnabout?

Freeholder Crabb has proven to be useful to those with deep financial interests in the county and their allies.  In June 2012, Crabb was at the center of an attempt to take control of Sussex County's waste disposal away from the County's 24 municipalities and turn it over to a committee of five insiders.  Later the County dump's lifespan was magically extended just as it had once been magically foreshortened.  Blogger Rob Eichmann, who at age 48 died last October of cancer, extensively studied this and other issues.  His notes and papers have been preserved by his alma mater.

Since his current term as Freeholder began in January 2012, Crabb has been a point man for insider interests in Sussex County.  Last December, a dinner was hosted in his honor at the exclusive spot favored by those who run the County.  As a rule these events are priced just below the amount that triggers the state's disclosure laws.  Technically legal but morally suspect and ethically a no-go.  The spirit of transparency isn't flourishing here in Sussex County.

If Freeholder Crabb's problems do come to light and they end up reflecting badly on the County and on those elected officials who knew, but supported and funded him anyway, watch for the blame games to begin.



Sussex GOP Chair endorses Crabb

Sussex Republican County Chair Ailish Hambel formally endorsed Freeholder Phil Crabb for re-election last evening in an email sent to Republican county committee members, elected officials, and activists.  Hambel, who holds a patronage job in the Christie administration, attached a cryptic endorsement of Crabb to a funding appeal.  Hambel wrote:


Please help me make sure we keep Phill on the board he has experience, knowledge of the issues in Sussex County. We need that right now. Thank you for your consideration of these issues.

No mention was made about what "these issues" might be.

The "re-election fundraiser" for Freeholder Crabb is being held on Thursday, May 1st, at the Franklin Firehouse Hall, 137 Buckwheat Road, Franklin.  The event is called a "Gourmet Spaghetti Dinner" and is being catered by the Homestead Restaurant.  Tickets start at $60 per person.

We couldn't help but notice who the checks are being collected by:

Please make checks payable to: Crabb for Freeholder

Please mail to: Dennis J. Mudrick P.O. Box 1014, Sparta, NJ 07871

Is this being done because Freeholder Mudrick can be trusted to file his campaign finance reports and Freeholder Crabb can't?



The Changing Alliances in the Sussex County Freeholder race

In his April 5th column in the New Jersey Herald, Rob Jennings noted that Freeholder Phil Crabb's onetime campaign manager was now working for Ron Bassani, who is challenging Crabb in the June 3rd Republican primary: 

One other detail in Bassani’s opening statement drew notice last week. Listed as his campaign contact was Kelly Ann Hart.

“Kelly is helping me design a website and helping me with fundraising,” Bassani explained.

Hart, president of K Hart Consulting since 2004, is a former executive director of the Sussex County Republicans with contacts beyond the region.

She is campaign manager for Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor seeking the Republican nomination against U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

Locally, she provided consulting in 2013 to the “Hometown Conservative Team,” a Republican ticket of six incumbents seeking re-election headed by state Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24th Dist., and including Vohden.

Much more intriguing, though, is her prior role with Crabb.

Crabb acknowledged that Hart was his campaign manager against Mudrick in 2011. Now she’s working for Crabb’s opponent.

Bassani, of Hart, said, “I’m glad I was able to track her down.”

Perhaps an understatement there.

Jennings' column set-off a series of vitriolic personal attacks on former Crabb manager/ now Bassani manager Kelly Hart in the comments section on the newspaper's website.  Using aliases, Wantage residents Ann Smulewicz and Kathleen Gorman engaged in name-calling and character assassination designed to damage Hart's personal and professional reputation.    They were joined in this personal attack upon an unelected, private citizen, by other acknowledged supporters of Freeholder Crabb.

Smulewicz voiced her support for Freeholder Crabb in the comments section of Jennings' April 5th column and on Thursday evening at a Stillwater Taxpayers Association meeting, Gorman sat with Freeholder Crabb and gave him her support.  It is important to note that neither Smulewicz or Gorman in any way know Hart besides what they've been told by others about her.  In another word:  Rumors.

While it is clear that Crabb's supporters are angry with Hart for switching sides, what goes generally unacknowledged is why she switched sides. The reason for the switch is pretty obvious when you take a moment to look at Crabb's campaign filings filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Crabb stiffed Hart.

Freeholder Crabb, whose habit of not paying to attend campaign events if he can help it is widely acknowledged, never paid Kelly Hart for her work on his successful 2011 re-election bid.  Crabb faced Dennis Mudrick, who was recruited to run against Crabb by former Freeholder and current Sussex County Community College Trustee Glen Vetrano.  Crabb won the primary against Mudrick by a vote of 2,803 to 2,396 (54% to 46%).  Mudrick went on to win the 2012 primary, coming in behind Gail Phoebus but ahead of Helen Wilson LeFrois.

A look at Crabb's 2011 campaign finance reports shows that Hart's mother was Crabb's biggest contributor, with the Skylands Victory PAC coming in second.  In fact, Kelly Hart's family has contributed over $100,000 to Sussex County Republicans, Republican candidates, and Republican causes.

Crabb likes getting paid.

Like most people -- Kelly Hart included -- politician Phil Crabb likes getting paid.  He takes his full salary as a Sussex County Freeholder and -- as the only Sussex County Freeholder who takes the health and benefits package -- is the most expensive Freeholder in terms of the cost to the taxpayers.  Crabb is doing nothing wrong in this, it is what he is entitled to as an elected Freeholder. 

The point is this:  If you like getting paid and if you take every penny coming your way, then you should have sympathy with others who also like to get paid for their work and you should pay them, especially when they are successful on your behalf.

What you should not do is to round up a posse of haters to trash a woman's reputation simply because she has found someone to work for who will pay her and not stiff her like you did.  Fair enough?