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. (nj.com)

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.