Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Jersey Young Republicans: Conservative Graft in Burlington County

Bickering among county's Young Republicans club
Burlington County Times

The former vice president of the Burlington County Young Republicans says he was removed from the post after questioning campaign contributions the club made to three candidates seeking county offices in the primary election.

Rob O'Connor accused the club of wheeling, the practice of transferring large sums of cash from one campaign account to another, in an attempt to get around limits established by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, the organization's president, said the club was not wheeling. She said the organization routinely receives donations and makes campaign contributions.

She said O'Connor was not voted out because of his accusations, but instead for poor attendance t club meetings. She said O'Connor also chose to support candidates who were not backed by the county GOP, which is contrary to the Young Republicans' bylaws.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine recently proposed a ban on wheeling as part of a package of ethics reforms he introduced last month. Currently, the practice of wheeling is legal.

Corzine's reforms would place limits on how much groups like the Young Republicans could contribute to state, county and municipal committees. The existing cap on donations to candidates would remain at $7,200.

O'Connor questioned donations made to incumbent Freeholders Aubrey Fenton and Stacey Jordan and to Gary Woodend, who is running for county clerk.

The slate was backed by the Burlington County Republican Committee and ran in a contested primary against Debbie Sarcone and Jon Shevelew for freeholder and Lauri Sheppard for clerk.

O'Connor said three private businesses made large contributions to the Young Republicans and that money was given to Fenton, Jordan and Woodend, who had already received contributions from the firms.

“The people who donated to us had already reached the limit with the county (candidates),” he said.

Under state law an individual or corporation cannot donate more than $2,600 to an individual candidate or more than $7,200 to a political committee, such as the Young Republicans.

According to state Election Law Enforcement Commission records, Pennoni Associates Inc. of Philadelphia donated $2,600 to Fenton on Jan. 10 and the same amount to Jordan on March 7.

On April 6, Pennoni donated $7,200 to the Burlington County Young Republicans.

Remington, Vernick & Arango Engineers Inc. of Bordentown Township donated $5,200 to the joint campaign fund of Fenton and Jordan March 12. On April 25, the company donated $7,200 to the Burlington County Young Republicans.

On March 21, Taylor, Wiseman and Taylor Engineers of Mount Laurel donated $5,200 to the joint campaign fund of Fenton and Jordan. The company donated $7,000 to the Young Republicans May 1.

All three companies hold contracts with the county Board of Freeholders or an agency it oversees. Representatives from Pennoni and Taylor, Wiseman and Taylor did not return requests for comment. A representative from Remington and Vernick was unavailable for comment.

On May 16, the Young Republicans gave $7,000 each to the campaign funds of Fenton and Jordan and $6,000 to Woodend's campaign.

“It's absolutely unethical, whether or not it's illegal,” O'Connor said of the donations. “We wouldn't have that kind of money to donate if not for those companies.”

Rodriguez-Gregg said those companies have traditionally donated to the organization and this year's contributions were no different from previous years. She said O'Connor's allegations were untrue.

“They've always been very supportive of the Young Republicans because some of them are Young Republicans and they're supportive of what the organization does,” she said, adding that her husband works for Remington and Vernick.

According to the organization's financial policy, which was adopted in 2005, any disbursement above $200 requires a majority vote of its executive board.

O'Connor said the contributions were made without consulting the board.

When he addressed it at a recent meeting, O'Connor said he was removed from office.

“It's just frustrating and it's retribution for speaking out against them,” he said.

Rodriguez-Gregg said the executive board did support the contributions and, had O'Connor been at more meetings, he would have participated in the discussion.

She said O'Connor supported the Sarcone slate, which was contrary to the organization's bylaws and had been asked to resign because he had missed several meetings.

When he refused to resign, she said she made a motion to remove him from office.

O'Connor said he felt he was allowed to support Sarcone because she is an associate member of the Young Republicans. He also contested allegations that his attendance was poor.

“I'm sure I missed a meeting or two along the line, but I most certainly wasn't excessively missing meetings,” he said.

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