June 10, 2007

What Happened to the UC Directions?????

WOW…what happened to the Union County Alliance’s Primary Election edition of the Union County Directions?? Perhaps it wasn’t completed in time to arrive in county resident’s mailboxes to serve its true purpose – Election Campaign Literature - thinly disguised as an informational newspaper, perhaps the powers that be decided to scrap the edition.

We hear that at least one county GOP legislator declined the opportunity to submit an article for publication in the paper. Featured in it’s pages are stories and photos of Democratic candidates, mostly incumbents seeking reelection, throwing in a Republican legislator or two certainly lends the rag some credibility that it is fulfilling it’s intended purpose and it can be pointed out that it is not a campaign piece paid for with taxpayer monies.

For whatever reasons were that the Directions didn’t make it to the homes of county residents the fact remains that an expanded version of the Union County Senior Newsletter did work its way into thousands of homes of the county’s Senior Citizens about one week before the Primary Election on June 5, 2007.
NJ ELEC law says that these types of informational pieces, with incumbents, paid for with tax dollars must reach the general public in the district at least 60 days prior to an election. The laws also go on to say that incumbents are only permitted to respond to letters from specific residents for specific reasons or notify the citizenry of a pending emergency, anything else constitutes campaign literature and cannot be paid for with tax dollars.
Neither of these situations exists unless one was to believe that Granny is in dire need to know that Parliament-Funkadelic would be appearing at Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield. Or that George Devanney, the County manager, took an all expense paid excursion to the Empire State building in NYC awhile back to present a Board of Freeholders resolution, to a Welsh Rocker who is holding a walkathon prior to another county concert scheduled for September.
There was however one article worth reading about the county’s Division on Aging which actually contained useful information on available services, otherwise, true to form it was a Freeholder Brag Sheet worse than anything ever tucked into a family Holiday card. There are four incumbent Democrats running for reelection in November, and note that three of the four have feature articles with photos, for the fourth one needs only to purchase the latest Soap Opera Digest at the A&P checkout to find out all about him.

The County Directions was the subject the following Star Ledger article in July of 2006, any resident who feels that the Senior Newsletter is more of the same should file a complaint with the New Jersey Elections Commission in Trenton.

Dems deny flier is campaign lit

Republicans say newsletter should focus on programs, not politicians

Sunday, July 23, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff
Before each election, a publicly funded, nonprofit corporation called the Union County Alliance publishes a newsletter, packed with smiling politicians.
The latest edition arrived at every Union County household days before last month's primary, featuring front-page photographs of Linden Mayor John Gregorio, Rahway Mayor James Kennedy and three county freeholders.
All of them are Democrats. All are up for re-election.
The alliance is headed by Michael Murray, Union County's former director of public information, and receives more than $250,000 annually from the all-Democratic county freeholder board. Each time the newsletter prints, local Republicans condemn it as Democratic campaign literature, subsidized by taxpayers.
"It's free advertising for their candidates," said Patricia Quattrocchi, a former GOP freeholder candidate.
For years, local Republicans have accused Democrats of taking advantage of their control over county government to win elections. They argue that by strategically featuring candidates in taxpayer-funded literature promoting programs and services, Democrats give themselves an unfair edge at the polls.
Democrats retort that publicity is the natural benefit of incumbency. They argue the programs touted through publications like The alliance's newsletter are administered by Democrats, and Democrats have every right to take credit.
"If the Republicans don't like it, they have to start winning elections," said state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, Union County's highest ranking Democrat.
Last fall, Union County Republicans asked state officials to investigate whether Democrats violated campaign finance law by not reporting several publicly funded publications and broadcasts as political donations. A spokesman for the State Election Law Enforcement Commission declined to comment on the status of the request, citing agency policy.
The GOP complaint targeted a brochure and television commercial promoting county health programs and featured a freeholder up for re-election.
The complaint also cited the alliance newsletter.
The alliance was founded in 1994 as a bipartisan organization to promote local economic development. The corporation still boasts both Democrats and Republicans on its board and is registered as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(4), organization, which allows it to engage in political activity.
Nevertheless, Murray maintains the organization and its newsletter are not political.
"My goal is not to promote freeholders. My goal is to let as many people who live in Union County know about what services are available to them," Murray said.
Union County provides the alliance with roughly 80 percent of its $300,000 annual budget. Freeholders also grant Murray use of a county-owned 2002 Ford Explorer. Kean University provides offices for the alliance's three staff members.
Murray said the newsletter supports itself via advertisements from businesses and organizations including Trinitas Hospital and Conoco Phillips. Roughly half of the ads in the current edition came from Union County government agencies or Urban Enterprise Zone funds from Elizabeth, Linden and Hillside, all Democratic strongholds.
The newsletter is a full-color, 24-page ode to county government, highlighting senior programs, summer concerts and ribbon cuttings. It is devoid of overt campaign pitches and thick with features about programs, services and columns penned by Democratic and Republican politicians.
Among Republicans' chief complaint is Directions' timing.
Murray contends the newsletter is scheduled to arrive during peak spring and fall marketing seasons, saying it is difficult to grab readers' attention during the summer and holidays.
That it regularly arrives weeks or days before primary and general elections is coincidental, he said.
"This publication is not timed with any election cycle at all," Murray said, adding that the fall 2005 Directions debuted more than 30 days before the general election.
State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. is an honorary co-chair of the alliance. He maintained the organization is not political, but said the newsletter's timing was troubling.
"I certainly think the publication dates of Directions should be moved to remove even the appearance of political purpose," Kean said.
Local GOP leaders, meanwhile, criticize the publication for its prominent photographs of campaigning Democrats.
"The thing speaks for itself, especially when you look at it over time," said Philip Morin, Union County Republican chairman.
The fall 2005 Directions featured a front-page photograph of a freeholder up for re-election. The previous fall, the front page featured two campaigning freeholders and Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, who was also up for re-election.
Murray contends the trend is, again, coincidental.
Yes, the mayors and freeholders pictured on the recent cover are up for re-election, Murray said. But, he added, none of them faced stiff competition in last month's primary.
If Directions were a political tool, Murray said, it would focus on Democrats running in heated races.
Besides, Murray said, every state legislator representing Union County -- whether Democrat and Republican -- is invited to submit a column, which runs in Directions unedited.
Charlotte DeFilippo, Union County Democratic chair, said the GOP's complaints about Directions being political were merely jealous prattle.
"If the Republicans were in charge, they would do no less and probably more. They are simply being crybabies," she said.
State Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Union) was among the Republicans with a column in the recent Directions. Nevertheless, he, too, said he was concerned about publication's politics.

"If the purpose is to feature programs," Bramnick said, "then why feature all the politicians?"