Will S-1500 force Sen. Singleton to resign from his job?

New Jersey Democrats are in the process of making a pig’s breakfast of efforts to reform the use of “dark money” to influence elections, as well as the operations and processes of government.  Legislation proposed by Senator Troy Singleton (D-07) seeks to require “disclosure by independent expenditure committees; raises certain campaign contribution limits; repeals ban on certain intraparty fund transfers.”  The Bill is S-1500.

We strongly support full disclosure and are great fans of groups like Common Cause and RepresentUS, which campaign for transparency and honest government.  That said, along with open government comes the need to enforce laws against those vigilantes who use the data from such to harass and harm those who chose to financially support a political candidate or committee. 

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that making a political contribution to a candidate of your choice is a form of free speech – protected by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.  Disclosure should not be a means by which thugs can target the homes, families, and employment of individuals who exercise that right.  From the NAACP seeking to protect its donors from southern KKK groups to Christian groups seeking the same protection from wealthy LGBT activists, disclosure will soon lose its popular support if it becomes a means to vengeance or violence. 

Particularly as some Democrats are seeking to recruit and politicize the actual criminal class (including violent criminals), S-1500 should include tough sanctions to protect the free expression of political choice.  And this is just as important for Democrat Party primaries as it is for General Elections, if you get our drift… so don’t cut your own nuts off just to spite someone else.

S-1500 amends existing law to increase campaign contribution limits, but neglects to address the glaring deficiencies in the rules enforced by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC).  Take this portion of the bill as a for instance:

“No individual, other than an individual who is a candidate, no corporation of any kind organized and incorporated under the laws of this State or any other state or any country other than the United States, no labor organization of any kind which exists or is constituted for the purpose, in whole or in part, of collective bargaining, or of dealing with employers concerning the grievances, terms or conditions of employment, or of other mutual aid or protection in connection with employment, or any group shall: (1) pay or make any contribution of money or other thing of value to a candidate who has established only a candidate committee, his campaign treasurer, deputy campaign treasurer or candidate committee which in the aggregate exceeds [$2,600] $3,000 per election… No candidate who has established only a candidate committee, his campaign treasurer, deputy campaign treasurer or candidate committee shall knowingly accept from an individual, other than an individual who is a candidate, a corporation of any kind organized and incorporated under the laws of this State or any other state or any country other than the United States, a labor organization of any kind which exists or is constituted for the purpose, in whole or in part, of collective bargaining, or of dealing with employers concerning the grievances, terms or conditions of employment, or of other mutual aid or protection in connection with employment, or any group any contribution of money or other thing of value which in the aggregate exceeds [$2,600] $3,000 per election…”

Why is it a bigger deal for a labor union to contribute $3,001 to a candidate or incumbent, but no big deal to throw a six-figure job, benefits, and a pension at him?  Because that’s what is being done.

Let’s look at the case of Senator Troy Singleton as an example.  On his personal financial disclosure statement covering 2017 (the latest available), the Senator lists that he was paid in excess of $50,000 by the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters.  This was the largest portion of his income.  His personal financial disclosure statements (2011-2016) all list the same source of income.  

And it’s not like Singleton was a union carpenter who worked his way up through the ranks and was rewarded by his brothers and sisters.  Singleton was a political operative a lieutenant in the regime of south Jersey political boss George Norcross.  Singleton worked for Norcross captain Joe Roberts, a Camden County Assemblyman who was made Speaker of that chamber.  His hiring was a straight political act.

So let’s get serious.  If you want to take out the corruption, dry up the money, stop ignoring the elephant in the room. 

But hey, if you are looking to put out press releases that congratulates yourself on some bullshit tweak that will go the same way as all the other bullshit tweaks… well, this is the kind of legislation that will accomplish that.  Just like old Joe Roberts’ “Clean Elections” b.s. of more than a decade ago.  Yep, old Joe was so committed to the people of New Jersey, that the moment he retired he got out of the crap hole he helped to create and moved to a low tax Red State.  Joe Roberts might be a hypocrite, but he was no fool.

The Democrat Party vendor blog, InsiderNJ, recently reported that Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-03) was in support of S-1500.  This is curious, given his own sources of income.  In an ethics case from 2013, documents from the United States Labor Department were entered into the record, stating the following:

“As Senate President, Steve Sweeney is paid $49,000 per year, plus an “allowance equal to 1/3 his compensation” ($16,333) for a total of $65,333.

Steve Sweeney is also an official with the Iron Workers union.  As a general organizer paid through the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, AFL-CIO, Sweeney received a base salary of $165,264 in 2012.  In addition to his base salary, Sweeney also received compensation in the form of allowances and disbursements for expenses. His total compensation through the International in 2012 was $206,092.

In addition, Sweeney received allowances of $21,351 as President of Iron Workers District Council of Philadelphia and Vicinity. In 2012, Sweeney's total compensation through the Iron Workers was $227,443.

The Department of Labor requires public disclosure by labor unions of how union dues are spent.  These disclosures list union employees, their salaries and allowances.  The disclosure also includes the allocation of time by union officers and employees estimating the amount of time spent on various activities such as organizing or administration.  One of the purposes of this disclosure is to show how much the union has spent on its core activities: collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment.  Non-members working in a union environment are obligated to pay dues, but only to support these core activities.

According to disclosure filings by the International, Sweeney spends a considerable amount of his time as a union official on activities described as ‘Political Activities and Lobbying.’ (LM-2, Schedule 12, Disbursements to Employees, Line I, Schedule 16)

What political activities did he engage in and on behalf of which candidates and causes? The explanation offered as part of the disclosure describes political activity as ‘to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of anyone to a Federal, state, or local executive, legislative or judicial public office, or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential or Vice Presidential electors, and support for or opposition to ballot referenda.’ (Instructions for Form LM-2 Labor Organization Annual Report, page 27)

Lobbying is described as ‘associated with dealing with the executive and legislative branches of the Federal, state, and local governments and with independent agencies and staffs to advance the passage or defeat of existing or potential laws or the promulgation or any other action with respect to rules or regulations (including litigation expenses).’ 

Senator Sweeney is not registered as a lobbyist with the United States Senate or House of Representatives.  He is not a registered lobbyist in Pennsylvania.  The union that pays Sweeney's salary does not use outside lobbyists.  Instead, it uses an employee as its primary lobbyist – registered with both the House and Senate.  It is interesting to note that the primary lobbyist in Washington allocates only 50% of his time to political activity and lobbying.

New Jersey state law does not appear to allow legislators to simultaneously serve as lobbyists. 

Questions concerning Senator Sweeney's political activity and lobbying for the Iron Workers union become a more serious matter when the amount of time allocated to these activities is noted.  Calculating the value of that allocation as a portion of Sweeney's compensation adds further emphasis. 

Sweeney spent 30% of his union effort in 2012 on political activity and lobbying.  In 2011 and 2010, the amount was 38%.  In 2009, the amount was 34%.  There is no indication of the actual amount of time Sweeney devoted to these activities, only the proportion of the whole.

Placing dollar amounts on Sweeney's activity helps put matters into an easily understandable form.  In 2012, Sweeney's gross pay was $165,264, and his total compensation was $227,443.  In simple terms, Sweeney was paid $49,579 of his gross, or $68,233 of his total compensation, to engage in political activity and lobbying for the union.  In 2011, Sweeney was paid $62,141 of his total compensation for political activity and lobbying.  In 2010, $58,377, and in 2009, $56,669.”

In Senator Sweeney’s defense, it must be said that he started his career as a blue collar man.  Sweeney was an actual ironworker, served his apprenticeship and earned his way.  He wasn’t a fake like Troy Singleton.

As for the ethics complaint.  It was brought before the New Jersey State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ethical Standards, that august body where ethics goes to die.  They duly heard the complaint, killed a few chickens, and closely examined the entrails… before the Norcross lieutenant who chaired the committee delivered a lecture to the complainant about daring to bring such affronts before them.  Don’t you know man, this is New Jersey!

And it’s not just these guys.  Most of the Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature are in hock to some machine, serving some master, living off pay checks courtesy of some regime.  Do they recuse themselves when presented with a conflict of self-interest?  Of course not!  That’s why they are there.  People like Senator Nick Sacco (with three public jobs and collecting a public pension) and Teresa Ruiz (two public jobs, with a third for her spouse) routinely vote on legislation that directly benefits the political machines that pay them.  That’s why they are there.

David Goodman, a spokesperson for Represent New Jersey, recently had this to say about political reform in New Jersey:  “Partisan Gerrymandering serves to strengthen the forces and effectiveness of dark money.  What it really amounts to is rigging elections—politicians prioritizing big donors to get elected, and then redrawing their districts to stay in office. They are picking their voters, instead of the other way around.”

He noted that just a month ago, Represent New Jersey alongside coalition partners, like the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, organized the fight against the partisan gerrymandering bills with action alerts, countless calls to legislators, impromptu hallway lobbying and in-person advocacy at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Facing massive grassroots pressure, the Senate President and Assembly Speaker pulled the amendment.  RepresentUs members showed that this movement is ready to fight against corruption by those in power—regardless of party affiliation.

Goodman says he is excited that the state Senate is holding hearings on S-1500, on January 17th.   He should temper that excitement with realism and know that they are playing him and RepresentUS.  And that’s okay, so long as he knows, and then uses that knowledge to turn it around… and play them.