People for Open Government

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What's Pay to Play?



Pay-to-play defined



In politics, Pay to Play is a practice in which public officials award lucrative no-bid government contracts and grant other favors to individuals, businesses, and organizations in exchange for large political contributions. Incumbent candidates and their political organizations are typically the greatest beneficiaries of pay-to-play. Many seeking to ban or restrict the practice define pay-to-play as legalized corruption.

The practice also extends, especially in the wake of the McCain-Feingold Bill, to Party Organizations, such as County and State Democratic or Republican Committees. This manner of pay-to-play utilizes "soft-money," or money which is donated to an intermediary with a higher contribution limit, which in turn donates money to individual candidates or campaign committees.

The practice has come under scrutiny in many states, and is, for the most part, left as a state issue rather than a federal one. Many agencies have been created to regulate and control campaign contributions. Furthermore, many third-party government "watchdog" groups have formed to monitor campaign donations and make them more transparent.


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Governor James McGreevey, one of New Jersey's most prolific political fundraisers, spoke on September 22, 2004, announcing an executive order limiting the practice of pay-to-play in state government. His words, which follow, aptly describe what pay-to-play is all about.


Political fundraising and the people's business all happen in the same meetings over the same table.


The pay-to-play system . . . is about private entities contributing to political organizations, not because of that candidate's policies or principles, but for the hope of their election and a subsequent contract award. It has taken civic engagement and twisted it into a business opportunity.


The requirement to amass staggering amounts of money has created a climate which has inevitably jeopardized the moral integrity of government's basic obligations.




Why Reform Is Needed: Fundraising and No-Bid City Contracts


At the July 14, 2004 City Council meeting, the Secaucus-based firm Scarinci and Hollenbeck received a $355,000 contract to be special legal counsel. Scarinci and Hollenbeck is one of the most powerful legal firms in Hudson County. The 14-year old firm is well known for its political connections and gives heavily at the local, state and county level. One of its partners is Donald Scarinci, a close personal friend and political ally of Sen. Robert Menendez. Menendez is also a close political ally of Mayor David Roberts and state Sen. Bernard Kenny, the state senate's Democratic majority leader. According to state ELEC reports, Scarinci in 2004 personally contributed a total of $15,800 to the Roberts campaign and the Hoboken Democratic Organization, the latter being a political group that usually contributes to Hoboken's incumbent administration. The Hoboken Democratic Organization is chaired by Mayor David Roberts, and former city Business Administrator Robert Drasheff was its treasurer.


Sarkisian, Florio & Kenny received a contract for $300,000 to be special legal counsel. A partner in the firm is state Sen. Bernard Kenny. In 2003 and the beginning of 2004, the law partners at the firm contributed a total of more than $27,000 to Hoboken United and the Hoboken Democratic Organization.


The firm of Schoor DePalma was given a $75,000 contract to be the city's municipal engineer. The firm is also the Zoning Board's engineer. William Kersey of Schoor DePalma gave $12,500 in 2003 to Roberts' political organization and the Hoboken Democratic Organization.


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