Monday, February 12, 2018

Is past performance indicative of future results?

Four years ago, then mayoral candidate Eric Jackson's campaign reporting irregularities were being pointed out. At that time, Jackson had failed to file his ELEC reports for the time period between the end of his 2010 campaign and the start of his 2014 run for office. It wasn't until it became a campaign issue that candidate Jackson played catch up and filed the back reports.

Unfortunately, his compliance was short lived. After winning the 2014 run off against Paul Perez, the newly elected mayor soon fell behind in his reporting. Even though he's been repeatedly reminded publicly, mostly by Kevin Moriarty through his blog, Jackson has continued to ignore the reporting requirements. As things turned out, non-compliance and lack of follow through are the hallmarks of Jackson's one term in office.

Looking ahead to this years municipal elections, we decided to review the ELEC filings of those candidates who have run before to see how compliant they are with the requirements. Sadly, it appears that some of the candidates are just as negligent as Jackson.

Let's start with some background. On page 48 of the Compliance Manual for Candidates you can find this chart.

It breaks things down pretty clearly as to what spending amount triggers which required forms to be filed. (For the sake of this article, when we say "candidate" we are speaking of a candidate for city council or mayor.}
  1. A candidate spending nothing must still file an A-1 form. 
  2. A candidate spending up to $5,100 (note: the amount of this threshold has risen over the last couple of cycles) must file the A-1 and a D-1. Other forms may be required.
  3. A candidate spending more than $5,100 must file the D-1 and the R-1. Other forms may be required. 

In this review we are most concerned with the A-1, D-1 and R-1 forms. (NOTE: the forms for each candidate that are referenced can be found in a folder at this link or via the NJ ELEC website's searchable database.)

The A-1 form is a candidate's certification that the amount spent on the campaign will be $0 or not more than the threshold of $5,100. Any amount of money spent on a campaign (or even on pre-election or "testing the waters" activities) must be paid from a campaign account. Even if a candidate only spends his or her own money, they must open a campaign account, deposit the money in it and make all campaign related expenditures from it.

When a candidate creates a committee and opens a treasury (bank account), the D-1 form is filed. Records of all contributions and expenditures must be maintained. While the designated Treasurer or deputy treasurer of a campaign committee is required to make and maintain written records of all funds received and expended, it is the responsibility of the candidate to insure that proper record keeping and reporting are done. In other words, a candidate is not without blame for poorly maintained or improperly reported records or missing filings.

The R-1 form is used to detail contributions and expenditures on a quarterly and cumulative basis for those

Campaign reporting is done by election cycle. Page 10 of the manual explains it this way: For reporting purposes and for the purpose of computing contribution limits, an “election” begins with the receipt of the first contribution or the making of the first expenditure and concludes on the 17th day following the election.

At the end of an election cycle, the candidate is supposed to zero out their accounts and file a finalized report with ELEC. If there are funds leftover, the candidate is supposed to roll them over into the next election cycle, thus filing any required forms and quarterly reports until such a time as the funds are spent down, the account zeroed out and a final report filed. (See pages 12 - 13 of the candidate reporting manual)

Executive Summary

Looking over the field of candidates, we see that five of the announced mayoral candidates have run for municipal office before: Alex Bethea, Darren Green, Annette Lartigue, Paul Perez and Walker Worthy. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora obviously has run for office before and currently maintains his reporting for his Assembly campaigns as well as having filed a D-1 for his Mayoral campaign.

Lartigue and Worthy each had a little a money left, but stopped filing reports. Perez had money left in his 2014 account that has not been accounted for in his 2018  reports so far. Bethea and Gusciora are basically up to date, although Bethea seems to be missing some pages on his initial report for the 2018 election. Green had filed an A-1 in 2010 certifying he would spend under the then threshold of $4000 and we assume he spent what he had raised and closed the account. (The ELEC manual is not clear on how that kind of situation should be handled. As concerned citizens, we would prefer a candidate file a final R-1 closing the depository just to be clear.)

Three of the candidates for council at large have run before: Sherwood Brown, incumbent Duncan Harrison and Lee Ingram.

Mr. Brown closed out his 2014 depository and has filed nothing for the 2018 cycle as yet. Harrison did not formally close out his 2014 filings but he did carry the balance forward into his reporting for 2018.  Ingram filed an A-1 certification in 2014 and no D-1. That would indicate that he never opened a campaign depository and thus spent $0 on his campaign. That is unusual but possible. He has filed a D-1 this time, an indication he plans to raise and spend at least a little money.

The four incumbent ward council persons are were all running again: Marge Caldwell Wilson, George Muschal, Verlina Reynolds Jackson, and Zac Chester. (As we were preparing this report, Verlina Reynolds Jackson was tapped to fill the Assembly seat vacated by Liz Muoio. Because of the prohibition of dual office holding, Verlina has to resign her council seat. This DOES NOT exempt her from having to file the reports correctly.)

Marge Caldwell-Wilson's 2014 accounts were properly closed. Her initial R-1 for 2018 has errors. George Muschal's filings are complete and up to date. Reynolds Jackson's last 2014 report showed a balance that is less than the starting balance of her first 2018 report. There is no recorded carry over from a prior campaign. Zac Chester's balance in his last 2014 report is the same as his starting balance in his 2018 report but, again, they don't show it as being carried over from a prior campaign.


Sitting councilman at large Alex Bethea filed his final report for his council reporting on 1/17/18. The filing only contains the last page and shows a balance of $2,999.56  He has not filed a new D1 for the 2018 election cycle. His treasurer, his wife Gloria, did note on the summary page the correct starting balance for the new cycle and that it was transferred from a prior election. Not perfect but at least there is an accounting of some sort for the funds.

Candidate Darren Green last ran for a council at large seat in 2010. He filed an A-1 form certifying he would not spend over the reporting threshold ($4,000 at that time). He has filed a D-1 for the current election cycle.

Assemblyman Gusciora has a zero balance in his Assembly campaign committee and filed his new D-1 for the 2019 primary (the next election cycle for that seat). He has also filed his D-1 for the mayoral campaign in Trenton.

Former West Ward councilwoman Annette Horton Lartigue ran for Mayor in 2010. Her last report on file is from June of that year and shows a balance of $3,527.01. It was not marked as a final filing and there have been no subsequent quarterly reports filed detailing what has happened with that money. She has filed her D-1 for the 2018 Mayoral race but doesn't show a bank account or name a treasurer yet.

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. On the Schedule A, it shows that the $200 was a cash contribution from the candidate dated May 15 of last year, presumably to open the bank account.

The manual states that contributions must be deposited in the campaign depository within 10 days of receipt. (Page 17). If the money was received and deposited in May, there should have been a D-1 filed within 10 days of the receipt of the contribution and an R-1 filed by July 15. On the summary page it states that the starting balance was zero and that the only money received was the $200. This leaves open the question of "what happened to the $1,421.49 in the old account?"

Rounding out the mayoral candidates is Walker Worthy. Worthy also ran for mayor in 2014. The last report his campaign filed was on January 14, 2016. It showed a balance in the account of $384.00 and was not marked as his final report. Nothing has been filed since, which is a little disheartening considering the candidate is the Deputy County Clerk and should know better.

Council At Large

Sherwood Brown ran for the West Ward seat in 2014. He filed his final report for that election cycle in June of that year and had a zero balance. He has yet to file anything with NJ ELEC for the 2018 election cycle.

Duncan Harrison is an incumbent at large council member. His report filed in November of 2017 showed a balance of $2,331.19 in his campaign depository and the R-1 was not marked as final. His February 2, 2018 filing did not indicate any carry over from the prior campaign in the proper places but it did show the starting balance the same as the ending balance of the previous report so at least the funds were somewhat accounted for. Harrison has also filed for an auxiliary campaign depository, perhaps related to his rumored consideration to change his mind and run for mayor instead of council at large.

Lee Ingram ran for an at large seat on council in 2014. He filed an A-1 certifying he would spend less than the $4,500 quarterly reporting threshold for the election. He never filed a D-1 designating a treasurer or a depository. This indicates he spent no money on his campaign or, if he did, he didn't understand the filing requirement of the D-1. He has filed a D-1 for the 2018 election.

Ward Council

North Ward councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson has changed treasurers with each election cycle. Her 2014 election cycle reporting was wrapped up on June 22, 2016 with a final report showing a zero balance. Her D-1 for the 2018 election cycle was filed in July of 2016 but her first quarterly report that cycle doesn't appear to have been filed until October of 2017.

That report shows one deposit of $200.00 but it doesn't give any indication of who contributed or when. The line where one would report any transfer from a prior campaign shows zero on both the first and last pages. On the final page, it is stated that there was an opening balance of $4594.54 and the $200 contribution. There are two disbursements reported totaling $3,168.49. When you subtract those disbursements from the $4,794.54 on hand, the remaining balance should be $1,626.05. However, the report shows an ending balance of $3,368.49. It appears as though the Treasurer erroneously added the deposited contribution to the disbursement total.

Long-time South Ward councilman George Muschal is unique in that he and his wife completely fund his campaign themselves. He filed an A-1 in July, 2009 certifying that he would not spend over the then threshold of $4,000 and thus he doesn't have to report back on the details of any expenditures. Technically, he could probably just file a new A-1 with each election cycle and be done with it. Instead, he files quarterly R-1s showing his cash on hand...more than is required.

As noted above, Verlina Reynolds Jackson will be leaving her East Ward council seat a few months early to move to the NJ Assembly representing the 15th district. The last report she filed for the 2014 election cycle was in May of that year. She showed a balance of $2,085.05 and it was not marked as her final report for that cycle. The next report she filed was in October of 2014 and it was marked for the 2018 election cycle. She did not indicate any money carried over from the prior election cycle on the report but she noted a starting balance of $3,418.35, $660.17 in expenditures and a closing balance of $2,758.68. We're not sure why, but Reynolds Jackson filed successive D-1s for the 2018 election cycle.

Council President and West Ward councilman Zac Chester has left the date of the election cycle of some reports. His last 2014 R-1 appears to have been filed in July of 2017. It was not marked final and it showed a balance of $3,038.19. His next R-1, filed in October of 2017, was marked for the 2018 election cycle. It's staring balance was the same $3,038.19 but there was no indication of money carried over from a prior election.

If you've made it this far through this exercise, we applaud you.  You have shown more diligence than some of the candidates.

It is disturbing to us that individuals seeking positions of responsibility and oversight for the budget of the city of Trenton seem to have trouble with reporting their own campaign finances.  Any of the errors and omissions outlined above are rectifiable by the filing of amended or missing reports. 

Voters have to ask themselves if they want to or should support candidates who don't seem to have a problem failing to get the details of campaign reporting correct, if they bother to file at all.

As recent history has shown us, the inability and/or unwillingness of those seeking (and in many cases, holding) public office to pay attention and adhere to the reporting requirements might just be an indicator of poor performance on the job.
Caveat emptor!

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