A pay-to-play ordinance targeting so-called Super PACs appears headed to the ballot in Gloucester Township this November after the Township Council on Monday declined to take action on the measure.
The ordinance, which was forwarded to Council following a petition drive by a five-member committee of active local Democratic Party supporters, is identical to one Councilman Dan Hutchison crafted and presented to Council earlier this summer.
On Monday, Hutchison appealed to his Council colleagues to allow township voters to decide on the proposed measure (see PDF to right).
"I believe the disclosure ordinance should be decided by the people of this town. If they don't support it, then they'll vote it down. If they do support it, then they'll vote in favor of it," he said. "I don't think there's a problem with that. So, I would ask the rest of my Council members to support me in a motion to reject the ordinance so that it would get put on the ballot to allow the voters of the town to decide this issue, not us Council people."
While the ordinance would not prohibit vendors who contribute to Super PACs from doing business with Gloucester Township, it would require them to disclose those contributions to township officials.
Super PACs cannot make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties, but are allowed to spend as much as they like, independent of campaigns, to support or oppose candidates. Also, unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs can raise funds from corporations, unions and individuals without legal limits.
Council unanimously approved the Hutchison-penned ordinance on first reading at its July 9 meeting, only to have Hutchison pull it back from the governing body's July 23 agenda.
Conservatives, including Gloucester Township Republican Municipal Committee Chairman Ray Polidoro, have questioned the need for a local measure aimed at contributions from Super PACs in recent weeks. Hutchison contends conservative Super PAC money found its way into the township's 2009 mayoral election between Mayor David Mayer and former mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton.
If approved by voters in November, the ordinance would remain law for at least three years unless overturned by voters in a subsequent election.
In addition to requiring Super PAC disclosures, the Democrats' ordinance, like one proposed by conservative watchdog group South Jersey Citizens earlier this year, would also place limits on vendors' campaign contributions in local races.
Where the two ordinances differ greatly, according to SJC political director Joshua Berry, is that SJC's would have eliminated the "loophole" created by the so-called fair-and-open process allowable under New Jersey's pay-to-play law. The Democrats' proposal mandates that the fair-and-open process is used.
Critics of the state's pay-to-play law, including state Comptroller Matthew Boxer, argue the fair-and-open process is so vaguely worded it allows elected officials to circumvent contribution limits the rest of the legislation seemingly aims to place on vendors doing business with governments.
SJC's petition drive came to an end earlier this month when a state Appellate Division panel ruled against the group's emergent appeal to overturn Township Clerk Rosemary DiJosie's refusal to certify its drive due to several procedural deficiencies she had previously cited.
The Democratic petition committee—Robert Richards, Joseph Pillo, Dora Guevara, Cindy Clark and Theresa Marrama—submitted roughly 1,700 signatures in support of its ordinance on Aug. 2.
A total of 1,047 valid signatures, or 10 percent of those residents who voted in last November's election, were needed to advance the petition ordinance to the Township Council.
Township Clerk Rosemary DiJosie on Aug. 16 sent a letter to the petition committee informing them she had , Council Vice President Orlando Mercado said on Monday.
Hutchison indicated Monday he had hoped both the Democrats' and SJC's ordinances were going to make it onto the ballot.
"I had expressed to Mr. Berry that it was my hope that he would be able to get his petition on the ballot, because I think that the voters in the town need to decide this issue," he said. "I personally think that there's a big problem with the Super PACs. Unfortunately, the courts have not agreed with me."