Time to Pay the Piper?


Back during the last Trenton city election in 2014, I introduced readers of this space to Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason. At that time, Ms. Mason had been a Hoboken Council member since 2007. She’d also run, unsuccessfully, for Mayor a few times.

I thought her story would be of interest to Trenton readers in 2014 because, well, rather than rewrite let me cut and paste:

The State ELEC [Election Law Enforcement Commission] filed a complaint against Ms. Mason and her husband (who was her 2011 campaign treasurer), charging the council member with six counts of late and incomplete reporting, all in connection with her 2011 council campaign. According to the Hudson Reporter, “In all, ELEC alleged that Mason’s campaign failed to report a total of $126,199 on time, with the information submitted anywhere between 98 and 276 days late. The amounts should have been reported on reports that were due beginning in October 2011 and April 2012, but were not revealed first until July 2012.”

Of course, the relevance to Trenton affairs three years ago was that the then-leading candidate for Trenton’s mayor’s office, Eric Jackson, had also been similarly tardy with his campaign reporting to NJ ELEC, having failed to submit required reports for his first, unsuccessful run in 2010 for over three years. I drew a direct line between Beth Mason and Eric Jackson, writing,

Back to Beth Mason. According to the article in PolitickerNJ, she has been formally charged with violations and is now subject to fines for reports that were late by 276 days, 276 days, 184 days, 184 days, 98 days and 98 days.

How late are Mr. Jackson’s reports? One of them, the report for expenses through and including the quarter ending June 30 was due on July 15, 2010. That was 1,334 days ago. Many of his other reports are even more overdue.

Will Mr. Jackson be held liable by ELEC for any of this? I don’t know. But given the examples cited above, Councilwoman Mason and Senator/Mayor [Brian] Stack [another officeholder fined by ELEC for late reporting], he certainly is vulnerable.  And his campaign could be exposed to pay significant penalties and fines, should he be charged.

Since he was running a tight race in 2014, Mr. Jackson hurriedly prepared and submitted the late reports, one month before the May 2014 Trenton elections. This apparently worked out for him. He was elected Trenton’s Mayor in a June run-off election against Paul Perez. And he avoided any investigations or charges from ELEC.

Councilwoman Beth Mason wasn’t so lucky. In January of 2015, ELEC followed through with their complaint and fined Ms. Mason $37,000 for her campaign reporting violations. It was far, far less than she was liable to pay: at one point it was estimated she could be fined as much as $2 Million Dollars.

But the damage to her political reputation from that fine was critical. Three months after the ELEC fine, and facing many other challenges, she resigned from Hoboken’s Council before the end of her term.

Is there any continuing relevance to Trenton’s Eric Jackson in the tale of Hoboken’s Beth Mason? Unfortunately for Trenton’s Mayor, I have to say yes. Eric Jackson has surely had a very rocky term.

He’s presided over three years of persistently high crime rates, and he and his Police Director have responded by re-introducing plans first announced three summers ago.

One year into the Mayor’s term, the City of Trenton was labeled as a “high-risk grantee of federal funds” 2 years ago, and largely as the result of an inability to fix chronically broken management and administrative practices in City Hall, the City this spring gave up $3.3 Million in federal grant funds for which it was otherwise eligible.

Due to broken management and administration elsewhere in City Hall during Mr. Jackson’s watch, close to $5 Million Dollars was stolen by Trenton’s payroll vendor over a period of several months in 2015, during which time the City received several warnings of problems from the State of New Jersey and the IRS. Warnings which were all ignored, and which have failed to lead to any visible staffing or management changes in City Hall to make sure nothing like that happens again.

Mr. Jackson presided over a badly-flawed property revaluation that has resulted in massively inflated valuations and tax bills for residential and commercial property owners.

Just yesterday, news broke that a non-profit charity established by Mr. Jackson in 2014, Moving Trenton Together, had seen its tax-exempt status revoked by the Internal Revenue Service this spring after having failed to file required annual tax returns for three consecutive years.

Finally, readers of this space will be familiar with the fact that, similar to his behavior after his first mayoral campaign in 2010, Eric Jackson has failed to file quarterly campaign finance reports, as required by law, since the fall of 2014. But now that Eric Jackson is an elected public official, he must be held to higher ethical standards than the civilian he was three years ago.

And that is why in February of this year the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission opened an investigation into his 2014 election campaign, as you can see from the above scan of a letter dated February 24. He now has one more thing in common with former Councilwoman Beth Mason.

There have no further updates since February on the status of this investigation. NJ ELEC is steadily (we presume) working through a major backlog of complaints and investigations which stacked up for several years due to a lack of a voting quorum of Commissioners. And it is currently working to oversee our major statewide elections this fall. During this phase of investigation, ELEC has a firm policy of not commenting on the status, or even existence of an open investigation. It’s a policy they reiterated to me in a phone call this morning.

ELEC has a full plate, but I do hope they work its way down to Mr. Jackson’s case as quickly as possible. With voters in the City of Trenton looking at the prospect of our next municipal election in only 243 days, I certainly hope that ELEC can review the case of our mayoral scofflaw, who has failed in two consecutive elections to comply with the minimum legal requirements of campaign reporting and disclosure.

Taken along with his abysmal record in office, and a similar disdain in complying with federal tax law regarding his private charity, it’s high time that Eric Jackson be called to account for his multiple failures well before voters are asked to cast their ballots for his presumed re-election effort.

After coasting through three years in office when he has failed to be held accountable for his actions, perhaps now – or soon – will finally be the time Eric Jackson pays the piper?

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