January 25, 2006

Finding Statfeld

Back in October I posed the question: Who is Martin Statfeld and why Garwood? I wondered why a Livingston resident had contributed $1,500 to the Democratic campaign for Garwood’s borough council.

Garwood is a quiet town, just seven-eighths of a square mile, tucked between Westfield and Cranford where some people reside from the day they are born to the day that they die.

Most everyone knows everyone else and generations of the same families reside within its borders, where people seem to really care about one another. And though they do admittedly gossip about each other, they also loyally watch out for each other. The police in town know most of the residents on sight; spring concerts at the school are standing room only; and midget baseball league games are family affairs.

So what kind of tie could this philanthropist from outside the county have that would make him want to invest his hard-earned money in, of all places, Garwood?

It did not appear that Statfeld had lived here in the past, nor own a business here, and as far as I could ascertain, no one on the local political committees worked for him, nor had anyone ever heard of him. So just what was it?

Some digging at the N.J. Election Commission Web site had shown that from July '04 through March ’05 he had contributed $75,000 to various Democratic county committees in central Jersey, with $32,000 going to the UCDC during one 20-day period in the fall of ’04 alone.

Knowing that no one hands over that kind of money in exchange for a mere “thank you very much, we appreciate your support” I decided to sit back and wait until something showed up - and show up it did!

Mr. Statfeld, I should mention, is the owner of Statfeld Vantage Insurance in Florham Park. This company had gone by the name Highview Planning a few short years back and research had showed that Statfeld had purchased Highview in a partnership with Charles Kushner from Gary “Billboard” Taffet, a good friend and chief of staf of former governor James E. McGreevey.

I continually kept my eye on the resolutions passed by the all Democratic Union County Board of Chosen Freeholdeers; routinely contracts were awarded without competitive bidding and a comparisson of the professionals receiving the contracts with contribution records usually revealed a mutual give-and-take.

However, neither Statfeld nor Vantage ever showed up in the agendas which are handed out at the freeholder meetings - so where was the connection? Time usually tells all, and suddenly there it was: hidden from plain sight in the minutes of an executive session which took place on July 7, 2005: Personnel Matter - The County has a new health insurance broker working for Statfeld Insurance. Why, I pondered, was this part of executive session minutes only?

Executive or "closed sessions" are those times when a governing body, school board or perhaps an authority or commission meets privately to discuss personnel problems, contract negotiations, legal issues or other matters which are not felt to be for public disclosure at that particular time. An attorney or others involved are normally invited to participate but unlike the regular public meetings the minutes are not usually released in their entirety until the matters discussed become public or if they are released they are vague. For instance in the case of a lawsuit it would read, “John Smith vs. Union County was discussed"; this is all perfectly legal.

These executive session minutes gave me the answer I was looking for, the connection between Martin Statfeld and the Garwood Democratic campaign. An insurance broker could certainly make a hefty commission writing health insurance coverage for even one third of the 3,000 county employees. The county committee wouldn't need to report this contribution in it's own totals as it was made directly to a local campaign and the local municipal committee would have $1,500 to spend as it pleased.

Since Garwood was not the only Union County municipality which, according to ELEC, benefited from Statfeld's largesse in the same time frame, if not the same day - could this be some form of wheeling? One possible scenario is that the county committee had reached its contribution limit from this donor and could have been directing where the money could safely go under the state's radar while still earning "points." Or perhaps Statfeld Vantage Insurance was looking for business from these municipalities who were under one party rule and a nice contribution could help pave the way. Or maybe Mr. Statfeld is just a very generous, civic-minded citizen.