Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Open and Transparent? Then tell us who your donors are!

The Hackensack Citizens for Change ran a campaign promising open and transparent government.  In their campaign literature they chastised the "leadership [who] has done everything it can to keep information from you."  They also promised that "requests for public records will be honored promptly." Now, I have not exactly been receiving expeditious or amiable records request replies, but that is not the subject of this article.  What about the records you do not need to request?  What about the quarterly reports (available online) that they are required to file by the Campaign Reporting Act?

According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, continuing political committees have an obligation to file quarterly reports which are to include the receipt and expenditure of funds.  During an election cycle, there are additional reporting requirements.

The Joint Candidates Committee of "LABROSSE CANESTRINO BATTAGLIA SIMS AND GREENMAN CITIZENS FOR CHANGE" filed their 20-day post election filing on June 7, 2013 (as required) with a closing balance of unspent funds in their coffers of $4,322.81.

According to the election compliance manual, the 20-day post election filing must be marked as a final report unless there is a recount, the committee has outstanding debt, or if the candidates were elected to office, have no intention of seeking reelection, and will only use funds in their account to pay expenses associated with holding office.

As seen above, the 20-day post election filing was not declared a final report.  The committee does not have outstanding debt that I can identify in their report.  There was not a recount in this election.  Do the Citizens for Change not intend to run for office again in 2017?  Are they going to use the $4,322.81 in their coffers for the sole purpose of paying expenses associated with holding office?

I doubt it, but ok, I'll go with it....  Until I was provided a copy of an invitation to a "Victory Celebration of the Hackensack Citizens for Change Council Team."  The event was a $250 per person cocktail reception at Bel Posto on June 27, 2013.  The invitation asked that all checks be made payable to "Hackensack Citizens for Change" and was complete with election law disclosures and the disclosure "Paid for by Hackensack Citizens for Change." Further, the proceeds were to support the Hackensack Citizens for Change.

So was the "Victory Celebration" event a success?  Did they raise a lot of money?  Were there a lot of donors present who were later hired by the city or awarded lucrative contracts?  It would be impossible to answer any of these very important questions when the Citizens for Change have not filed their July 15, October 15, or January 15 quarterly filings. I have also been unable to identify a new committee or PAC that has been established under the name Hackensack Citizens for Change to receive the funds from this cocktail reception.

What appears to have been the correct thing for the Citizens for Change to do would be to either disburse their funds to a PAC (or other candidate/committee) or file a Form D-2 transferring the $4,322.81 in their coffers to a new campaign for the 2017 election while continuing to file quarterly reports of their contributions and expenditures.

If you look back to the 2009 election, the slate of candidates Townes, Sasso, Melfi, Meneses, and Eisen closed their books by filing a D-2 and transferring the funds to "TOWNES SASSO MELFI & MENESES MOVING HACKENSACK FORWARD," while continuing to file quarterly campaign reports until the 2013 election (which they did not run in).  Even Charles "Ken" Zisa continues to file his quarterly reports, like clock work, for the nearly $60,000 he holds in his war chest (though something tells me his days of campaigning are over).

If you had any question if the Hackensack Citizens for Change was a continuing committee with interest in seeking reelection (and it wasn't already answered by their hiring their campaign manager, Thom Ammirato, to be the spokesman for the city) they do continue to expend funds for advertising.  For the past week, I have been unable to login to Facebook with out a barrage of "sponsored" (paid advertising) posts from the Hackensack Citizens for Change Facebook page.  Those are expenditures, right?  So they should also be disclosed on a quarterly reporting.

So what happened?  Mr. LaBrosse, Mrs. Canestrino, and Mr. Battaglia are not newcomers to the political process, they have been members of past committees, parties to past election cycle filings.  Further, the Citizens for Change was surrounded by attorneys and seasoned political figures who assisted in their transition into office:

  • Anthony Rottino, the transition team chairman (and coincidentally a new city hire), has run for State Assembly, County Freeholder, and chairman of the Bergen County Republican Organization, though unsuccessful in all three bouts he is no stranger to filing requirements.  
  • State Senators Loretta Weinberg and Kevin O'Toole served as Honorary Chairs of the committee.  They are no newcomers to the the political process or filing requirements.
  • Ted Takvorian, a local attorney, served as the Vice Chairman (coincidentally his son now serves as the assistant Municipal Judge).
  • Frank Catania, an attorney, (coincidentally later appointed the Municipal Prosecutor) assisted in the transition having sent letters on behalf of the Citizens for Change to the outgoing council. 
  • Thomas Scrivo, an attorney well versed in Municipal Law (coincidentally later named City Attorney), served on the committee and also sent letters on behalf of the Citizens for Change.
  • Bergen County Freeholders Steve Tanelli and Maura DeNicola are no newcomers to the political process and filing requirements, they served on the transition team.
  • Deborah Keeling-Geddis is a local resident who is a past candidate for city council (a party to a election filing) 
  • Assemblyman Gordon Johnson served on the committee, another seasoned political figure.
  • Cedar Grove Township Manager Tom Tucci also served.
None of the above listed transition team members are newcomers to politics or governance.  Did not one of them think to ensure the Citizens for Change complied with their very basic requirement to file quarterly reports?  Was this committee just an "in name only" group?

Campaign Treasurer, Regina DiPasqua, has indicated that she resigned from her duties as Campaign Treasurer, in writing, after her filing of the 20-day post election report.

Sure, a lot is going on when you are taking over a city with a $92,000,000 budget, maybe it slipped through the cracks.  But there certainly wasn't too much going on for the Citizens for Change to hold a $250 per person cocktail reception fundraiser.  There wasn't too much going on for them to start building their war chest.  I guess they were taking Ammirato's advice, trying to "get a real political operation going." 


I am not an attorney, I do not claim to be an expert in election filing requirements.  The above information and commentary is provided based on my experiences, understanding of campaign filing requirements, and my research.  I do not allege (nor intend to allege) impropriety or illegal activity.  It is up to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to investigate these matters.


  1. It is just amazing that this group was able to fool so many people into thinking that they were going to change the status quo. They have only been in office 7 months and they are treating Hackensack as their playground. It is disgusting!