The Marcus Group is a political consulting firm in Northern NJ. Founder Alan Marcus was quoted in a New York magazine article about James McGreevey and his financial backers. His quote has been appearing on the website, www.politicsnj.com, for months, a subliminal message tucked over to the right serving as a constant reminder of what is wrong with the political system here in NJ. Marcus said “In New Jersey, you contribute money not for access but results. Anybody who doesn’t admit that is lying.”
It appears that one firm, Schoor DePalma of Manalapan, has decided to stop lying, according to an editorial in The Times of Trenton this week. Considered to be one of the “big boys” in the pay-to-play arena, Schoor DePalma is said to have notified its clients, which include municipalities and counties, that they would immediately stop making corporate political contributions and that employees were forbidden to provide or receive meals or entertainment with public officials or public employees.
Pay-to-play is the practice of making sizable monetary contributions to political organizations expecting to be awarded equally sizable contracts for services without the benefit to the taxpayers of competitive bidding. By informing their clients that they would stop making political contributions they have in effect shined a light in the pay-to-play closet.
Between October of 1999 and March of 2004 Schoor DePalma forked over in excess of $2.1 million to campaigns in New Jersey with $95,400 of it going to the Union County Democratic Committee. NJ Elec records indicate that this figure does not include what they have contributed to the campaign coffers of individual UC Democratic candidates for the state senate and assembly. Political contributions made by Schoor DePalma during that five year period fills 110 pages on the Elec Website! It should be noted that DePalma were able to reap over $4.1 million in no bid contracts from the Union County Freeholder board - the reward Alan Marcus was talking about.
Has Schoor DePalma decided to take the high road and rely on their excellent work reputation to secure work? Or perhaps it has just gotten all too confusing for the accounting staff. When one considers that they have to track where the contributions been made and what kind of return they have received on their investment, they may have just said, "enough is enough already!"
But perhaps there is something more going on here. Recently the firm was implicated in a scandal in Ocean County involving a former chairman of that sewage authority and an elected official whom the chairman did not identify. The chairman pleaded guilty to a single count of extortion for accepting a $15,000 kickback from the engineering firm and splitting it with the official. Federal guidelines call for at least a two-year prison term but he hopes that by cooperating with prosecutors he will win a lighter sentence.
DePalma denies any wrong doing and in a statement said that the firm will not allow its good name to be discredited. Truth be told, the damage has already been done and it is a sure bet that the feds will be looking at every move that DePalma makes from here to eternity.
It remains to be seen if other “professional services” companies will follow their lead and discontinue the practice of making contributions to political campaigns as it appears that these contributions can morph into something far more serious. A good look needs to be taken at the practice of awarding contracts without competitive bidding. Currently at the county government level there are no restrictions in place and the taxpayer is the one who ultimately bears the burden of funding political campaigns that perhaps they don’t support.
The Union County Board of Freeholders has a responsibility to the residents of Union County to see to it that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and that they are getting what they are paying for.