NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—In New Jersey, a political action committee (PAC) only needs two people to put their name on paper, a chairperson and a treasurer, in order to legally exist.
Barbara G. Benson served as Women For Good Government’s first Chairwoman. She listed an address in Middlesex Boro and her occupation as an administrator at a law firm in the same municipality.
Deborah Celey served as Women For Good Government’s treasurer and was in charge of the fund’s bank account at what was then a Wachovia bank branch in North Brunswick. Celey said she worked as an “Inc. Learing Specialist” at Members United Federal Credit Union in Jamesburg.
In its first election cycle, the organization was able to raise several large contributions without a website, an office, or any staff.
In May 2008, the PAC kicked off its fundraising with what might now be seen a bad omen: the group’s first donation, $250, came from the campaign fund of Joseph Spicuzzo, the county’s Sheriff and Chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.
Spicuzzo was arrested on March 7, 2011, on charges that he had sold investigator jobs for $25,000 each. He resigned from the chairmanship that same day. He cancelled his re-election bid for an eleventh term as County Sheriff in 2010, and was succeeded by the candidate he endorsed, Millie Scott.
He was indicted on August 19 and is expected to go to trial on the charges later this year.
A large part of the reason Spicuzzo dropped out of the campaign was that the county government voted to pay out an expensive settlement to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by five women who worked in the Sheriff’s Department.
The county’s taxpayers paid a whopping $850,000 to put the matter to rest and avert a trial.
While the settlement stopped Spicuzzo’s campaign to keep his Sheriff job, it didn’t stop then-Governor Jon Corzine from appointing the allegedly corrupt Sheriff to a coveted position on the state authority that supervises the Meadowlands sports complex.
Fresh off winning the Governor’s election in November 2009, Chris Christie famously called Spicuzzo “probably the singular most unqualified candidate” for the job. Spicuzzo resigned from that position as well following his arrest.
Bad omen or not, Spicuzzo’s donation proved to be a drop in the bucket relative to the group’s major donors. The organization raised another $38,300 over the next two months from just eight donors. And none of them were women.
THE TOP DONOR BY FAR…
Five of the donors owned one company, CME Associates, based in Old Bridge, that has the dubious distinction of donating, by far, the most of any corporation to the ten suspicious PAC’s in question.
The firm’s owners gave a combined $2,500 to Women For Good Government in its initial year. But over the next two-and-a-half years, they gave an astounding $586,700, more than one-third of all contributions, to the ten organizations.
They gave to every single one of the shadowy PAC’s, in amounts that added up to between 30% and 67% of total contributions to the organizations, between Jan. 1, 2008 and Aug. 1, 2011.
During that same time, CME’s owners also donated $9,000 directly to New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill’s campaign funds.
CME was recently selected to be the consulting engineers for a massive sewer repair project commencing this week on New Brunswick’s Remsen Avenue. They also secured the contract to design a pump station on South Pennington Road.
T&M Associates, a Red Bank corporation that builds roads, donated $3,600 that year. T&M currently does business with Middlesex County as well as the state.
According to the Star-Ledger, the corporation was doing $1.4M worth of business with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in 2010, but avoided violating their pay-to-play policy by giving $57,000 to several of the shady organizations. The PAC’s then passed a combined $164,000 on to the state Democratic Committee, in essence exploiting a loophole in the policy.
In its first two months, Women For Good Government also received donations from EPIC, Inc., a construction management company based in Piscataway that gave $7,200 and Philip Caprio, the CEO of Livingston-based TMC Services, Inc. donated $2,500.
Throughout the following three years, donors continued to be predominantly corporations or men, but at least one woman, who also happens to be an elected official at the county level, contributed thousands to the group.
$10,000 CAME FROM COUNTY CLERK
Elaine Flynn, Middlesex County’s elected Clerk, gave $10,000 to Women For Good Government. Her husband, William Flynn also donated a total of $9,000 to the ten suspicous PAC’s.
When contacted by NewBrunswickToday.com yesterday, County Clerk Flynn couldn’t remember who asked her to give to the organization or who she gave the checks to.
“There are so many organizations that ask me for money,” she said, adding she had just spent $125 on a ticket to “Senator Wisniewski’s” Jefferson-Jackson Dinner scheduled to take place April 26 at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick.
When pressed on what persuaded her to give to Women For Good Government, she confirmed that she saw the donations as a way to support the Democratic Party.
“I approve of the Democratic stance on a lot of things,” she said.
Though she stressed that she runs the Clerk’s Office in a strictly nonpartisan fashion, she also said she’s a strong supporter of President Barack Obama and tends to support Democrats on the local level as well.
Still, she gave little specifics on why she chose to give to Women For Good Government, rather than directly to candidates or the official Democratic organizations.
“I like the name of the organization for one thing,” she said. “I guess that somebody must have talked me into [contributing].”
The first person to report on the suspicious pattern of donations to the PAC’s was Harold Kane, of Monroe Township, who was Flynn’s Republican opponent in the 2010 election.
Kane wrote a piece published in September 2011 on the conservative blog MoreMonmouthMusings.com that included a comprehensive summary of donations since 2008 to the ten PAC’s, and two others based in Northern New Jersey.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a seven-part series.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.