Larger campaign donations? Council flip flops may have faltered

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HOBOKEN, NJ — After several members of the public complained about a Hoboken City Council proposal last month to increase union campaign donation limits from $500 to $7,200, the council voted against the measure – a vote that lasted about 18 minutes.

Then a council member, who was at the last meeting of his term, asked to reconsider his vote, allowing the measure to pass.

A few weeks later, the flip was followed by another twist.

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Hudson County View reported last week that the city attorney said the vote is unlikely to survive a legal challenge. He recommended that the council reintroduce the ordinance soon.

Controversial measures

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At a council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 15, several members of the public spoke out against an upcoming vote to raise the limit on labor campaign donations to local political candidates from $500 to $7,200.

Councilor Tiffanie Fisher – who had opposed the increase since its introduction on December 1 – noted before the meeting that a previous administration had lowered the donation limit to reduce union interference in Hoboken campaigns. .

A member of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, a non-profit organization based in Hoboken, agreed with Fisher, write on twitter on the day of the meeting, “Some people remember Hoboken from the bad old days when contracts and board approvals were handed out in exchange for campaign money. Today, Hoboken serves as a model for reform of the campaign finance. City Council could do some serious damage to those reforms tonight. https://bit.ly/3F1dcwK.”

Several members of the public agreed with Fisher and his allies, coming to the December 15 meeting and speaking out against the potential change.

Revise the order

But earlier in the day at the December 15 meeting, council members who backed the increase made an amendment to the ordinance ahead of tonight’s vote, tweaking it.

They added a “trigger clause”. The clause meant that if the increase was approved, it would only take effect if an ongoing legal case against Councilman Michael DeFusco – for possible campaign violations in the past – was not resolved by the courts.

There had already been a court case against DeFusco for possibly violating donation limits during a previous campaign. Council members said the difficulty of penalizing those who breach the low limit made it unfair, and that raising the limit would at least “level the playing field”.

Supporters of the order also said the lower limit was unfair to unions that wanted to participate in public elections like others and want the best for their workers.

Finally, supporters of the ordinance noted that an outside attorney gave the city legal advice in 2019 saying the low local limit might be unenforceable because the state limit is much higher.

Fisher, believing the last-minute change was too “substantial” for a final vote to be legal, encouraged the board to suspend the vote that evening. City Attorney Brian Aiola also said he had “reservations” and the “same questions” about voting on a significantly revised ordinance, but did not recommend stopping the vote.

The majority of council then resisted a motion to defer the vote.

“How do you think this reflects the will of the people?” Fisher asked. “Have you heard a person, a person, come and say they’re okay with waiving our payment to play? This vote tonight…is completely unrepresentative of the people. And I literally promise this group that If this passes tonight, I will personally take all my time to get every signature and put this on the ballot in November There is universal support in our community for keeping big money out of our elections.

Council members Phil Cohen, Jim Doyle, Emily Jabbour and Michael Russo voted yes on the amended ordinance. DeFusco recused himself.

Council members Ruben Ramos, Tiffanie Fisher and Jen Giattino voted against.

After the question was defeated, the council moved forward with further votes. But 18 minutes later, Councilwoman Vanessa Falco, who had abstained, said she wanted to reverse her vote. Then she voted yes.

Falso was in her last council meeting, as she took on a new position leading the city’s new housing division.

The December 15 vote (seen at 10:12 p.m.) and the subsequent reconsideration (at 10:30 p.m.) sparked mockery on social media.

The Better Waterfront Fund Tweeted, “On a motion to reconsider. Falco changed his vote to yes and the ordinance passed. So much for the city’s progressive reputation.”

“Wish I could say amazing but I can’t,” Fisher tweeted.

Final twist

Last week, Hudson County View published an article noting that City Attorney Brian Aiola said the ‘trigger clause’ likely changed the ordinance too much from what was originally voted on. . The public needs ample notice for votes on ordinances, and these must be voted on in two separate meetings.

Accordingly, Aiola said in a written opinion: “The safest course of action in order to avoid the possibility of an adverse decision in the event of a challenge … would be to reintroduce and reconsider the order in January 2022 or soon. time later.”

If the council does so, it will have to reintroduce the ordinance at a future meeting and then hold a second reading, public hearing and final vote at a subsequent council meeting.

Hoboken Town Hall
Across Hoboken Town Hall

The December 15, 2021 meeting can be viewed here.

The next Hoboken Council meeting in February can be watched virtually with this link.

The meeting agendas on the city’s website also list instructions for following and joining via Zoom. Here are the agendas.

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