Here We Go Again??

The electoral landscape for Trenton’s May 8 election is still very much in flux since the current mayor of Trenton announced on February 2 that he is now the outgoing mayor of Trenton after declining to run for re-election. Even before his announcement, a number of other challengers were lining up to declare their candidacies. Others have since joined the race.

February is usually a quiet time in the election season. Candidates for Mayor and Council scramble to secure enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the May 8 ballot. Until the March deadline to submit petitions to the City Clerk’s Office, don’t expect too much news.

So with this temporary lull in the process, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the field of candidates as it is shaping up. This morning, Jim Carlucci posted on his blog an excellent overview of the 2014 campaign finance reports to the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) of the mayoral and council candidates who are either standing for re-election this year, or seeking another chance at the brass ring.

Sadly, Mr. Carlucci finds that many candidate campaigns from the last election have left dangling many financial loose ends and potentially troubling issues as they are revving up for this year’s races. The outgoing mayor was well known for his difficulty with ELEC over two separate elections, as he failed to file required quarterly financial reports for three years’ running, after both his unsuccessful 2010 run and his successful campaign four years later. It’s not known how much, if at all, these ELEC problems influenced his decision not to run again this year. But I would think that he had at least some difficulty raising funds from donors who were aware of his multiple lapses. After some point, a candidate becomes radioactive, and that may have been the fate of this mayor. His failure to run his campaigns conscientiously within the law, as this space predicted years ago, foreshadowed the way he ran his Administration: negligently managed, non-communicative, quick to take offense, and irresponsible with public funds. And so Eric Jackson prepares to ride into his political sunset.

Candidates – and voters – this year should learn some of the lessons taught by Mr. Jackson’s campaign. Failure to do so might lead us once more to make more mistakes this May.

Starting with the presumptive mayoral front-runner, Paul Perez. I call him the presumptive campaign front-runner based on his performance in the 2014 race. After moving back to Trenton around 2013 after many years in Federal service, Perez mounted an effective campaign that brought him to a June 2014 runoff election with Eric Jackson, where he earned a respectable 44% of the June vote. That finish four years ago positions him pretty well for a race for the open Mayor’s seat this spring.

In his blog piece, Mr. Carlucci writes,

Paul Perez lost the runoff election to Eric Jackson in June of 2014. He last filed a report for that campaign account in July 11 of that year and showed a balance of  $1,421.49. It was not marked as his final report. Perez filed his D-1 and two R-1s for the 2018 mayoral run in October of 2017. He has a new treasurer and a new campaign account at a different branch of the same bank.

The first Perez R-1 for the 2018 election cycle does not indicate what happened to the prior balance of $1,421.49. The new reporting starts with a $200.00 contribution on the first page and shows no money transferred from the prior election.

So, the first thing that we know going into this election cycle is that Paul Perez still has unfinished business from the 2014 election. Since he never officially closed out his 2014 election reporting, and had a cash balance as of the end of his campaign that has not been reconciled with his new campaign. That means, technically that Mr. Perez has failed to file quarterly reports to ELEC since 2014, the same problem the outgoing has. The amount is not huge, true, and as an unsuccessful candidate, the filing obligations for Mr. Perez are not as stringent as those for a sitting mayor. But still, Perez’s loose end here raises an eyebrow.

However, that unreconciled balance is not the only eyebrow-raising problem with Paul Perez’s reports. Let’s look at a few.

Here’s a screenshot of the last (though not final, since the box at the bottom is blank) 2014 report he filed. It shows the open balance of $1,421.49.

perez post-elec 2014

Please note the name and signature of the Treasurer. It appears to be a “David Morales.” This person signed all of the 2014 campaign reports filed on behalf of Mr. Perez. Perez also signed the reports, as the candidate.

However, when Perez first filed papers with ELEC for the 2014 campaign, in May of 2013, another person was designated as Treasurer. Luz Senieda Bramlett was, not Morales. You can see in the screenshot below from the same form linked above that Morales was designated as a person authorized to sign campaign checks, but he was not named Treasurer. From the time that Mr. Perez started his campaign through its completion, David Morales signed every financial report. Perez never filed any paperwork to change his Treasurer. So every report signed by Morales is technically not in compliance with ELEC standards.

perez post-elec 2014 2

“OK,” I hear you saying, “these are technical problems. Is there anything of real concern in these reports?”

I think so. Here’s one. The screenshots below come from a “20-Day Post-Election Report” filed on July 11, 2014, after the June 10 runoff election that Eric Jackson won. The first line on the first page has the entry dated June 9, 2014, showing an apparent Cash Withdrawal from the campaign bank account with the notation “Pay workers June 10th.”

perez post-elec 2014 1perez post-elec 2014 2

Using cash to pay campaign workers violates ELEC rules and NJ campaign finance law. Campaign workers, whether working for the run of the campaign on Election Day, must be paid by a check from the campaign bank account. You can see in the screenshots that 18 “Challengers” were each paid $50 by check, totaling $900.

So, who was paid from that $3000 cash withdrawal, and why were payments made in Cash, in violation of NJ law? We don’t know, based on the campaign’s filed reports. You may recall that back in 2010, Tony Mack paid many of his campaign workers in cash, which attracted some press attention and gave us all a sneak preview of the following 4 years of the Mackapocalypse.

Are you concerned that Paul Perez followed in some of the same election day footsteps as Tony Mack? I am!

There are a few other obvious problems with this report. In the section itemizing contributions, we see this information for two contributions:

perez post-elec 2014 3

“Richard Rivera” is listed as having made a $400 contribution. There is no other entry which includes other required information: Home address, Employer, and the aggregate amount of any other contributions he might have earlier to Mr. Perez. That’s problematic.

“400 Market Street, LLC” contributed $750. ELEC rules forbid an LLC company from being a donor to campaigns. Donations from an LLC’s bank account must be recorded in the name or names of the individuals who own the company, the better to track their overall donations to ensure they fall under the legal limits. That information isn’t here. Neither is the aggregate amount from this donor.

These notes are all from a single filed report. And they are not the only problems and errors with this filing. There are several others, but these are representative and give the reader a picture of the quality and accuracy of this report. This is before any vetting of the numbers: adding them up, tallying against earlier reports for consistency, and so forth. I guess that comes next. Based on this one report, I think it’s important to take a closer look at Mr. Perez’s other filed reports, and to post some of the more notable discoveries that may be found. You can look as well, at Paul Perez’s or other candidates’ filed ELEC reports, at this link.

These items concern me. They should concern you, too. Here we go again, do I hear you saying?

Our last two mayoral elections were won by candidates who had serious problems with the way they ran their campaigns, as demonstrated by their error- and violation-filled ELEC reports. Despite this evidence being visible to voters well before each election, Trenton went ahead and voted them in anyway. We then found out, on both occasions, that these guys ran their Administrations just about as well as they ran their campaign finances.


Are we repeating ourselves for the third time in a row? I hope not. I’d hate to think we might be in for another verse of the same old Trenton Blues. There’s of course no reason to say we are definitely repeating the same mistakes we made 4 and 8 years ago. But, as a quote often attributed to Mark Twain (not a stranger to this page) once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

We have a little under 3 months (4, if you include the almost-inevitable runoff election in June) to find a new tune for Trenton.

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