Money Troubles

Trenton’s Municipal election is three weeks from today. It’s the home stretch for candidates to make the case for themselves, as well as kick dirt on their competitors.  Mayoral candidate Walker Worthy kicked a lot of dirt on Eric Jackson yesterday, on the subject of Mr. Jackson’s personal financial history.

Mr. Jackson’s personal history may or may not be relevant, taken on its own. But considered along with a history of difficulties with campaign finance regulations and reporting – which extend to his most recent report filed just last week – I think it is fair to look at all of the existing evidence and ask whether Eric Jackson is the right choice to lead Trenton out of the very, very dark place it has been in for far too long.

Mr. Worthy, currently the Mercer County Deputy Clerk, held a press conference yesterday to reveal a string of personal financial difficulties experienced by Eric Jackson over several years. These include a personal bankruptcy in 1996 discharged in early 1997, and several more recent liens, judgments and foreclosures, the most recent occurring in 2007.

According to the Trenton Times, Mr. Jackson responded with a statement attributing his 1996 bankruptcy to financial difficulties during one of his two divorces. He did not address the more recent occasions, and according to the Times “did not return calls for further comment.”

To raise this kind of history is certainly appropriate and relevant. As we so unhappily saw over the last four years, the considerable smoke surrounding the Felonious Former Occupant of Trenton’s Mayor’s Office – that was well known before his 2010 election – proved to be caused by the raging financial fire in the life of Tony Mack that set this entire city ablaze. Had voters paid more attention to these suggestions that all was not well in the personal financial dealings of the candidate four years ago, we might have ended up with someone who might not have been tempted to augment his income through graft and bribery.

I want to be clear I do not accuse Mr. Jackson of any similar impropriety. I simply want to say that his financial history – given our recent history in this town – is extremely relevant. I am disappointed that he failed to voluntarily disclose any of this information himself.

I will leave discussion of his personal finances here. I am more concerned today, as I have been for several months, with Mr. Jackson’s campaign finances, and the slipshod and careless way in which he has complied with campaign financing and disclosure requirements as laid down in New Jersey election law.

Last month I wrote about how Mr. Jackson had never closed out his accounting and reporting for his 2010 mayoral run. And I remarked in February on the story broken by the Trentonian about a donation accepted by Mr. Jackson for his campaign this year from a city contractor, the City’s bond counsel McManimon Scotland, in violation of Trenton’s strict Pay-to-Play campaign financing law. These campaign problems raised the question for me as to whether Mr. Jackson was living up to the high standard he set for himself as the only candidate prepared to run his administration with a “zero tolerance for corruption” and high ethical standards.

To be fair, over the last few weeks, Mr. Jackson and his campaign corrected some of these lapses. On April 1, his campaign filed with the State Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) the financial reports required to close out his 2010 campaign, four years late. And in his most recent report sent to ELEC, the 29-day Pre-Election document filed on April 17, he disclosed that his campaign returned the $850 McManimon Scotland contribution that violated Trenton’s pay-to-play law.

So far, so good. However, Mr. Jackson’s 29-day pre-election report raises new questions of sloppy reporting and, it appears, contributions that exceed legal limits.

ELEC regulations clearly state “A partnership, a limited liability partnership (LLP) or a limited liability company (LLC) may not make contributions as an entity.” Instead, those contributions must be recorded as contributions from the owners, partners of members of those entities. ELEC is quite emphatic about that. The bold print I use above for the quotation from the official Compliance Manual for Candidates is used in the manual.

Considering how emphatic and unambiguous ELEC is about not accepting contributions from these types of entities, it is surprising to see no fewer than four LLC’s listed as contributors on Jackson’s April 17 report. “Brookfield Construction LLC” gave $500. “Capital Telecom LLC” also gave $500. “Bail Bonds of America LLC” donated $1000. And “Woodrose Properties CWA LLC” gave $1000 on 3/25/14.

This last entity, Woodrose, is interesting because it is one of the companies owned by former US Senator turned Trenton property developer Robert G.  Torricelli. Mr. Torricelli is listed as the only member of that LLC, meaning all contributions from that company should be counted as coming from him.

On the same April 17 report, Mr. Torricelli is listed under his own name as having given a $600 donation; this goes along with a 12/24/13 donation of $2000. All together, then, Mr. Torricelli has given Jackson’s campaign $2600 under his own name, and $1000 under his LLC, totaling $3600

Since the maximum donation allowable from any one individual for a campaign is $2600, Mr. Torricelli has exceeded the legal maximum by $1000. Mr. Jackson now has to refund an excess of $1000.

While he is at it, Mr. Jackson should also revise his reports to properly reflect the individual owners of the other LLC’s reported on April 17. Je should probably also look at doing the same for the other LLP’s and LLC’s previously reported in January of this year.

Jackson’s ELEC report of April 17 also shows that his campaign is drawing the interest and support of other entities around the state. Some of these are somewhat curious. The report discloses a contribution of $2600 from the Bridgeton Democratic Organization on February 25. I’ve been the treasurer of the Trenton Democratic Committee and have some familiarity with those finances; a contribution to another county candidate of $250 is a major expense, I can tell you. That a Cumberland County town of barely 25,000 can support a contribution of $2600 to a non-partisan mayoral candidate in Trenton is remarkable.

I tried to find out more information about the Bridgeton Committee, for a clue as to where that money came from, but that committee has not filed an ELEC report of its own since 2008. That report showed total revenue for the entire preceding year of 2007 as $7300. So unless the finances for that committee improved tremendously in the last six years – and we don’t know since the committee has filed no reports in six years – the Jackson donation might represent something like a third of their annual revenue.

Curious, isn’t it?

Also curious is a donation of $8200 made on 2/25/14 from an entity listed as “ICE PAC” in Woodbury NJ. ELEC’s records list that name as a PACronym for an entity called “Initiate Civic Empowerment,” which has been listed as a statewide Democratic-affiliated organization since 2012.  ICE PAC has, like the Bridgeton Democratic Committee, filed no financial reports with ELEC since the earliest year reported, 2012. So I could not find any more information about the source of that donation to Mr. Jackson.

In 2012, ICE PAC did file a form listing its Chair and Treasurer as being associated with a Woodbury law firm having the same address as the PAC. Long, Marmero is a law firm that according to its website does a great deal of ts work in municipal law and local land use. Among its listed clients is the Bridgeton Zoning Board.

South Jersey’s interest in Mr. Jackson’s campaign is certainly remarkable, further evidenced by a $7200 donation from State Senator Stephen Sweeney’s campaign fund. It is matched by interest from North Jersey, too, including a $8200 donation from the Jersey City Democratic Committee, which strikes me as a very sizable donation, the maximum allowable, from a local municipality far away. Its interest in local Trenton affairs is fascinating.

Apart from the Torricelli donation, I don’t see anything that is obviously problematic, although some donations are probably worth a further look. But the Woodrose/Torricelli donations do certainly appear to be over the legal limit, as is the reporting of donations by LLC’s and LLP’s in violation of ELEC rules.

These latest campaign finance slip-ups come right after several weeks during which Mr. Jackson’s campaign has had to play catch-up ball with its reporting lapses for the 2010 campaign as well as this year’s pay-to-play problem. It appears that Jackson’s campaign is not getting its act together as the campaign has proceeded.

When viewed along with the disclosures made by Mr. Worthy about the candidate’s personal financial history, this portrait of Mr. Jackson as perhaps not the most buttoned-up person to take on Trenton’s money troubles has to be seen by voters as very troubling.

We went down this road four years ago with the last guy. Do we really want to do this again?

4 comments to Money Troubles

  • Card in envelope: Kevin, Kevin, Kevin.

    Kulk’nac: Name an auger, a blogger and a flogger.

    (Really too bad that 98.6 percent of Trentonians will neither see nor appreciate this.)

  • Interesting. Have you done equal investigations of the other 5 candidates? I’d like to get a sense of perspective. Are these missteps only being made by the Jackson campaign or is this the sort of fumbling every campaign goes through?

  • Robin M Vaughn

    Management of an entity’s budget requires knowledge and skill, not sure any candidate in the race possess either. I also think that ALL candidates should disclose their financial status for a period of 10 years. No candidate should get a pass on this.

  • ed w

    I remember when eric j. was running against mandy s. and outed him as being disabled(on disability), i thought at the time that it was a violation of HIPA laws and showed a lack ethical responsibility.

    not a trait i wanted to see as a mayor.