UNION – The election may be over but political parties are still waging war with one another. This time it’s the Union Township Democratic Municipal Committee accusing a former Republican candidate for assembly and the Union Township Republican Victory, Inc of “blatant disregard for the law.”
However, there are two sides to every story and while township GOP members are small in number, they strongly objected to the accusation, maintaining that they “did everything honorably” and within the guidelines laid down by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, or ELEC.
There is little doubt Union Township Democratic Municipal Committee Chairman Joe Cryan, an assemblyman for the 20th Legislative District, would let Union Township Republican Victory, Inc. get away with breaking ELEC laws. Not this year, when Charles Donnelly and his running mate Chris Hackett challenged incumbents Cryan and Annette Quijano for their seats in the Nov. 5 election.
Donnelly ran for a Union committee seat in 2009 and 2010, losing both times to Democrat incumbents. In 2009 the township resident came within a few hundred votes of beating Democrat incumbents, the closest a Republican came to this position since the early ‘90s. In fact, the township resident believes Cryan has a “personal vendetta” against him and will do anything to make him and Republicans in Union look bad.
According to the complaint filed by the Democrats with New Jersey ELEC in October, the local township Republican Party was financially supporting and promoting the election and defeat of candidates in the primary and general elections, but failed to file how much they were receiving in campaign donations or spending.
Such ELEC violations carry stiff penalties and sanctions for violating election campaign finance laws because there are limits set on how much a party can spend.
Specifically, ELEC looks at a “political party” as two or more persons acting jointly or a corporation, partnership or other incorporated or unincorporated association raising and spending $1,000 or more to promote a nomination, election or defeat of a candidate.
Daniel Antonelli of Antonelli Minchello, the attorney representing the Union Township Democratic Municipal Committee, sent a letter to ELEC in October requesting the state agency take a closer look into how Donnelly skirted the law.
The township Democratic party maintained in the missive to ELEC that Donnelly, who failed to garner enough votes to win a seat as a representative of the 20th assembly legislative district, remains a Republican party operative and therefore violated “many” state statutes under ELEC’s jurisdiction.
For example, the complaint pointed out that no one in the Union Township Republican Victory, Inc. party, including Donnelly, filled out a statement of registration with ELEC, appointed a campaign treasurer or bank for deposits, which failed to meet ELEC’s requirements for “an organized political party.”
The local Democratic organization also pointed out the local GOP party failed to file any campaign contribution and expenditure reports with ELEC even though there is proof of “$1,000’s of dollars” in donations and expenditures for the 2013 general election campaign.
Antonelli, who also is the Union township attorney, mentioned in his letter to ELEC’s Executive Director Jeff Brindle that in the course of “raising and spending money in support of the election and defeat of candidate for office,” the local Republican Party completely failed to report these contributions and expenditures. This, he said, left other candidates, committees and the general public in the dark about who gave these political campaign contributions and how the money was spent.
To substantiate their claims, the Democratic Party included several political fliers to prove the Union Township Republican Victory, Inc., was clearly operating as a political committee. They maintained this political entity paid for at least two township mailings urging voters to pass a public question and support Republican candidates, among other things.
As a result, Antonelli and the Union Democratic Party requested that a formal complaint be issued by ELEC against the Union Township Republican Victory, Inc. and Charles Donnelly, seeking penalties and sanctions for their blatant disregard for the law,” the attorney said, adding that their reporting requirements to ELEC be made.
The Democrats also requested that ELEC freeze the bank accounts of the local GOP until the commission has a chance to investigate this matter fully.
Donnelly scoffed at the claims by the township Democratic party, and was quite willing to explain why the assumption was made that no filing for the Union Township Republican victory, Inc. had been made.
“Quite simply, it all went back to after Matthew Curinzi ran for Union township committee and had money left in his campaign fund after the election,” he explained, noting that this former candidate wanted to see the money go towards developing the Republican Party in the township and so the funds were transferred into the Union Township Republican Victory, Inc. account.
After this point things became slightly more complicated because Donnelly was a candidate for assembly, so he says he sought out legal counsel.
“I wanted to ensure my candidacy for assembly was above board so I sought out legal counsel through the Union County Republican Party. I was advised that because I was a candidate running for an assembly seat, I had to shut down the Union Township Republican Victory, Inc. because it was a conflict of interest for me to hold a position handling money for that political organization,” Donnelly said.
The former assembly candidate said after that it was agreed upon by Union Township Republican Victory, Inc. board members that the political organization would be shut down and any monies being held transferred into the Donnelly and Hackett for Assembly campaign fund.
“These monies were reported to ELEC and as far as we are concerned we did everything honorably. There never was a penny put in anyone’s pocket,” Donnelly said, pointing out that he thought he knew exactly why Cryan had the complaint filed with ELEC.
“I think Joe Cryan has a vendetta to make us look dishonorable and crush the reorganized Republican Party that we have built over the last five years,” he added.
Just days before the election, ELEC responded to Antonelli, noting he would be notified after an investigation whether there would be a review. However, any determination made by ELEC could take awhile, if the past is any indication.
A few years ago, the Union County Democratic for Change Committee found themselves on the other side of an ELEC complaint, when Hiver Ambroise, an Elizabeth resident running for a seat on the board of education in 2008 failed to file ELEC campaign donation reports.
The candidates running on this ticket were supported by campaign donations from powerful Union County Regular Democratic Organization leaders such as Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, Sen. Ray Lesniak and the Union County Democratic Committee. ELEC filed the complaint in June 2008, but it took a few years for the issue to finally resolve.
Because this agency only has five investigators covering the entire state, following up on campaign violators often takes years.
ELEC Deputy Director Joseph Donahue told LocalSource his agency gets 100 campaign violation complaints a year, but due to the complexity of most, “it can be a long time before a decision is made.”