The Star-Ledger’s coverage today of the ELEC complaint filed by the Union County Republican committee was welcome news, however, a few facts weren’t stated and the egregious law braking as well as the total costs has not been exposed to the fed up over- burdened taxpaying public.
Since 2003, I have been keeping track of the costs of taxpayer paid for county campaign mailings and commercials that mostly feature incumbent freeholders who are up for re-election.
The county times these mailings around the primary and general elections. For at least as far back as 2002 the county has launched a media campaign in September which lasts through October featuring a commercial and mailer. The county has defended these mailings as needing to inform the public about services.
Today’s quote in the Ledger by powerbroker/freeholder-maker Charlotte DeFallipo was the same old same old. She must have quotes filed in her home rolodex, mailings under m and so on; or maybe they’re all taped to her refrigerator for quick reference.
Not mentioned in the Ledger article is the fact that there are no 'We're connected to you' propaganda mailings or commercials sent out during the rest of the year. All of these mailings occur during election time, it’s a documented fact. Also not mentioned is that there are nine freeholders, yet every year the three up for reelection become the stars of this literature. If you read this literature as well as the county press releases you would believe that only these three freeholders have anything to do.
What do the rest of them do?
Also not mentioned is the fact that Message and Media does the design of these mailings and produces the commercials. This firm has a long standing county no-bid contract in the form of a $6,000 monthly retainer ($72,000 a year) for ‘Creative Consulting Services'.
One of these contracts boosts that the firm was responsible for the successful county 'Image Building Campaign' which featured the branding of the logo 'We're connected to you!' on signs and literature. Along with their $6,000 monthly retainer for consulting, the firm bills for the individual pieces separately.
Message and Media also does campaign consulting work for the county Democrats as well as state-wide. The Union County Democratic Committee pays Message and Media a $5,000 monthly retainer. Do the math and it would appear that the Democrats get their campaign work for less since the taxpayers are paying for their campaign mailings and commercial.
Documents obtained through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) have shown no description of these creative consulting services. A proposal dated March 9, 2005, consists of just four short paragraphs which Freeholder Chairman Rick Proctor refers to in a memo as, a detailed proposal, states that this no-bid contract was awarded for monthly creative consulting.
Another document states, "The services to be offered by MediaSquared, Inc., are based on the extensive involvement with the County of Union in the planning and development of a marketing plan for the county. An OPRA request for the marketing plan mentioned was returned "document does not exist."
The result of this moonlighting is that the designs and colors used are very similar. The recipient of literature would have to look very closely to know if the message is coming from their government or from campaigning politicians. This gives the campaign a double bang for their pay-to-play bucks. Because pay-to-play is another term for kick-back of tax dollars to campaign contributors, the Union County taxpayers are paying for the Democrats campaign on both fronts.
The Ledger article mentions the Union County Directions Newsletter which is supposedly published by the Union County Alliance. It is the county’s Public Information Department employees that produce this newspaper on taxpayer time in the county Administration building. Can they deny this? Most of the articles in the Directions Newspaper appear on the county website as press releases. The county charges back to county departments for advertising in this newspaper. Other advertisers are heavy pay-to-play contributors, such as Schoor Depalma.
What’s up with Kean University’s (state taxpayer money) big financial involvement with this past publication? I don’t know yet. Kean is also stonewalling my OPRA requests.
Michael Murray, the president of the Alliance, is a former head of the county’s Public Information Department. He still draws a salary from the county ($100,000) as well as having a now infamous county vehicle assigned to him. He gets a Ford Explorer with all the amenities that go along with that on the taxpayer’s dime. Yet an OPRA request seeking financial information regarding this publican was returned from Murray: We are a 501(c)3 Corporation. OPRA applies to government.
What a convenient loophole.
Let’s hope the Ledger keeps up their good work of uncovering these abuses of the public's trust. The Union County Watchdog Association is committed to staying on top of this. We will follow every taxpayer dollar that is spent on campaigns. Kudos must also be given to the Union County Republican Committee for joining the fight.
This is no small amount of money ($327,759.85 2005 to date). The mailings mentioned in the Leader article aren’t the only ones. I have filed two GRC complaints in as many weeks because the county is trying to withhold the costs of these mailings until after the election. Good, that leaves this story opened for a continuation…….. And a few more things:
I count three more stories in the above for the Ledger to sniff around at:
Message and Media’s county contract/Democrat campaign work
The Union County Alliance scam
Charlotte DeFillippo’s home office
2005 commercial: Freeholders Proctor, Estrada and Ward are up for reelection as well as County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi
Keeping Union County Families Healthy commercial featuring Freeholder Rick Proctor
Cost: $ 23,000.00 for production of (1) :30 second TV spot
$119,824.00Cable Buy 9/12-9/25 (2 weeks)
2005 mailings to date: Freeholders Proctor, Estrada and Ward are up for reelection as well as Clerk Joanne Rojoppi
Keeping Union County Families Healthy mailer featuring Freeholder Angel Estrada Mailed 9/19/05
Cost: $30,000.00 (no bid) Printing Media M2 Squared (Message And Media)
Healthcare Programs Brochure
Cost: $8,025.00 Printing Media M2 Squared (Message and Media)Postage: ? GRC complaint filed
Mailers sent to residents dated 9/15/05 – 10/20/05
GRC complaint filed. I was given postage bills without having them referenced to which mailers they go along with.
Letters addressed to Dear Homeowner sent to all property owners in 9 municipalities listing county services rendered over an indiscriminate amount of time (not mentioned is how much tax revenue is sent to the county) mailed in months of July-September
Cost: $9,787.32 Postage for only 9 letters - GRC complaint was filed on
9/27/05 for other 2 bills Dividing this number by a .37 cent stamp would indicate that approximately 26,452 letters were mailed (minus the 2 bills missing). The county claims that there is no in-house print bill for this mailing.
Union County Directions Newspaper - Published by the Union County Alliance - Cost to the county approximately $100,000 Published right before the Primary and General elections.(See note at end of list regarding this newspaper.)
Senior Newsletter mailed during primary week featuring campaigning freeholders. 'Meet freeholder Nancy Ward' on back cover and a message from freeholder Rick Proctor.
Cost: Postage $12,768.78. Copies are done in house so the county claims
there is no cost (4 pages).
Four color pieces mailed to Summit regarding the acquiring of Open Space (which they later backed out of)- OPRA request for costs is still pending
Approximate expenditures 2005 Y.T.D. - $327,759.85
2004 commercial: Freeholders Sullivan, Kowalski, Wohlrab and Routolo were up for reelection as well as Sheriff Frohlich
•Aired beginning September and ran though October - Hop on the bus for education commercial featuring Freeholder Angel Estrada
Cost: Approximately $185,203.19 For production and cable buy.
A postage bill with no description for $26,000.00 dated 10/13/04, I am waiting for an explanation for this as of 8/27/05.
Three mailings were sent to residents just days before the general election:
Mailed 10/21/2004: Berkeley Heights Open Space mailing featuring Daniel Sullivan and new freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski
Cost: $683.39 for postage, no printing bills revealed (Note County Manager's wife was hired as township administrator shortly thereafter.)
• Hop on the bus for education featuring Freeholder Angel Estrada
Cost: Media M2 Squared (Message And Media): printing bill $33,000.00 (no bid)
Postage for 134,273 pieces: $22,627.87 (another postage bill came up in an OPRA request for $2,819.02)
Mailed 10/28/2004: Senior Newsletter featuring all freeholder's up for reelection with meet Bette Jane Kowalski, Union County's newest Freeholder on back cover
Cost: $2,190.09 for postage, no printing bills revealed (Earlier mailings of this same newsletter cost $6,501.57 in postage- I don't believe the post office runs sales on postage.)
Union County Senior Newsletter - Featuring Sheriff Ralph Frohlich, front cover; Daniel Sullivan; and a back cover article titled 'Meet John Wohlrab, Union County's Newest Freeholder' . Postage $6,501.57. Copies done in house, county claims there is no cost (4 pages).
• Union County Directions Newspaper - Published by the Union County Alliance and mailed to all residents right before the primary and general elections - Cost to the county approximately $100,000 (See note at end of list regarding this newspaper.)
• Honor Student Letter - Featuring Daniel Sullivan - No record of postage. Copies done in house, county claims there is no cost. There are a lot of miscellaneous letters of this sort that showed up in an OPRA request for documents. One interesting one was for Roselle Catholic High School. This was the only private school that received honor student letters. Joe Renna attended Roselle Catholic and is still actively involved with the school.
• Union County Arts Center - Featuring Daniel Sullivan
Cost: $2,355.26 for postage on 8,176 pieces, color copies were done in-house, county claims there is no cost.
Letter to Roselle residents signed by Daniel Sullivan and Angel Estrada
Cost: $501.49 fo postage on 2,585 pieces.
Approximate 2004 total (I can't be sure I was given everything, this also doesn't include most printing and copying costs) - $379,062.80
2003 commercials: Freeholders Scanlon, Mirabella and Holmes were up for reelection
Aired begining September and ran though October *The STAR Center - Featuring Debra Scanlon
I have the service contract for the Star Center - It shows a total proposed budget of $240,831 (The county used 14% of the total federal STAR grant money on this promotion.) Also note that Message And Media did this work. Message And Media also does campaign consulting work for the Democrats Freeholder campaigns as well as state-wide.
• Runnells Specialized Hospital - Featuring Debra Scanlon, Al Mirabella, Chester Holmes. The county ran this commercial in 2000 when the same freeholders were up for election. They didn't run it 2001 & 2002. Cable buy: Approximately $186,000
2003 mailings - - All mailed within 6 weeks of the general election (I'm sure I am missing a few.)
• Open Space Trust Fund - 2003 Progress Report - Featuring Al Mirabella
Media M2 Squared (Message And Media): printing bill $33,000.00 (no bid)
Postage for 134,273 pieces: $22,627.87
• Open Space Trust Fund Letters signed by Deborah Scanlon & Al Mirabella
2/03 Letter mailed to all Rahway & Clark residents - Esposito Farm Postage: $863.00
August 14, 2003 - Letter - Trailside Nature & Science Center expansion
September 10, 2003 - Letter to all Clark & Rahway residents: New leisure and recreational park for all residents of Clark.
• Open Space Trust Fund - 5 More Acres Saved - Deborah Scanlon
• Open Space Trust fund - 8/14/03 - Letter mailed to Clark residents
• 2 Senior Newsletters - Debra Scanlon photo and letter on front - Chester
Holmes and Al Mirabella along with Scanlon photos throughout 4 pages (total
- 11 photos of the incumbents). Postage $12,768.78. Copies done in house, county claims there is
no cost (4 pages).
• *The STAR Center 4 page, full color, glossy brochure - Featuring Debra Scanlon, Angel Estrada (See * above)
• Sports Safety Forum postcard - Featuring Debra Scanlon
Cost: Postage - $1,270.78, Printing done in house, county claims there is no cost.
• Homeland Security brochure/The Role of Union County Government - Debra Scanlon and Chester Holmes featured on 1st page. This wasn't mailed. Copies done in house, county claims there is no cost.
• Para Transit Welcome Veterans post card featuring Al Mirabella
Cost: Postage - $2,934.63, Printing done in house, county claims there is no cost.
• Youth Sports Safety - Featuring the entire freeholder board - Cost: Postage - $1,270.78. Also sent home in children's book bags. Printing done in house, county claims there is no cost.
• And the Union County Directions Newspaper which is 24 pages and mailed to every postal patron in Union County twice a year before the primary and general elections. Featured - 22 photos of incumbents,
Scanlon, Mirabella & Holmes. Most articles pertained to programs that the incumbents were working on. Also featured 2 photos with captions of incumbent Senator Raymond Lesniak and 2 photos of Nicholas Scaturi also
running for a Senate seat.
Printing: AFL Printing $23,000.00
SVO Printing printed the first two issues and charged $40,000 more than a second bid. SVO is owned by Richard Stender who is Assembly Woman Linda Stender's husband. She was a sitting freeholder at the time the contract was awarded.
Approximate 2003 total (I can't be sure I was given everything, this also doesn't include most printing and copying costs) - $607,939.66