Earlier this week, the Atlantic County Freeholders approved a measure that rolls back the County’s pay-to-play ordinance. New Jersey is home to an overlapping series of pay-to-play laws. Although there is a statewide law in place that covers all counties in New Jersey, another statute allowed room for each County to enact its own ordinance, provided that the local ordinance is consistent with the themes of the statewide law. Despite this requirement, some of the hundreds of local ordinances in effect across the state vary widely from the statewide law.
Until days ago, Atlantic County had one of the most stringent pay-to-play ordinances in the State. Now, like Monmouth County, Atlantic County has decided to replace its local pay-to-play ordinance with the standard State law that applies to all counties. Among other differences, the now-defunct Atlantic County ordinance did not allow contributions in any amount to be made by a business entity that holds a contract with the County, while the State law allows contributions to covered recipients of up to $300 per reporting period, even for vendors who currently hold contracts with the government. Additionally, while the Atlantic County ordinance previously placed limits on the amount a vendor could contribute to a PAC that is engaged in the support of County candidates or elections, the State law does not extend to PACs of this type.
The timing of the County’s decision may prove controversial, coming only two months after a Superior Court judge ruled that the County had violated its own pay-to-play ordinance in awarding a contract to a business entity that had contributed to the statewide candidate committee of an individual who also served as the Atlantic County Sheriff. The decision to rescind the county ordinance already has some issuing calls to remove the decision from the hands of the politicians and candidates who are most affected by local pay-to-play ordinances, by revising the State statute to match the stricter standards of some of the more stringent county and municipal ordinances.