Atlantic County Freeholders Vote to Repeal Pay-to-Play Ordinance

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.

Will 2015 be The Year for Pay-to-Play Reform in New Jersey?

New Jersey’s pay-to-play laws have been described as a “dizzyingly complex array of statutes, ordinances and executive orders.” New Jersey currently has different laws in effect that apply to State government contracts, State redevelopment agreements, county, municipal and legislative contracts, Board of Education contracts (where Boards of Education are receiving state aid) and a statewide disclosure law that applies on both a pre-contract and annual basis. This list of laws also does not include the hundreds of local ordinances that are currently in effect at the municipal and county levels of government in New Jersey, nor does it include municipal redevelopment ordinances, (which may regulate political activity by redevelopers and their consultants) and land use ordinances (which may cover those seeking land use approvals in connection with development projects).

Although ELEC has been pushing for reform for years, with the recent Atlantic County pay-to-play decision, 2015 may just be the year that existing laws are streamlined to eliminate the multifarious patchwork of ordinances, which currently vary from locality to locality. Until that time, however, government contractors need to stay on top of the varying (and sometimes conflicting) labyrinth of laws, including compliance with ELEC’s upcoming Pay-to-Play Annual Disclosure filing requirement.