ELEC filings foment spat between two Hoboken council members

ELEC filings foment spat between two Hoboken council members

May 05, 2010 Jersey Journal
The day after Councilwoman Beth Mason called for Councilman Ravi Bhalla to resign for pay-to-play violations, Bhalla struck back with a claim that Mason committed more severe violations of state election commission laws.

A review of records filed by Mason with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) show that Mason paid out $15,000 in "street money" - cash used for such things as get-out-the-vote efforts - apparently in violation of ELEC rules.

Paying "street money" to campaign workers is legal, but each worker must be paid individually, ELEC rules state. If a payment goes to a vendor or group, then the candidate must separately list each worker and how much they earned. Payments in cash are forbidden, however.

According to ELEC reports filed by Mason in September - which Bhalla says were filed three months late - $15,000 was distributed to campaign workers through checks made out to cash.

In one instance, her report shows check number 1076 made out to cash for $450. Later in the report, it lists six people receiving either $50 or $75, for a total of $425, all with the accompanying check number 1076.

"Councilwoman Mason should not be casting stones when she herself lives in an ethical glass house," Bhalla said, referring to a story in yesterday's Jersey Journal that reported that Bhalla did not file state pay-to-play forms for the past three years until this weekend, after he was asked about them. "This is the height of hypocrisy."

A spokesman for Mason accused Bhalla of breaking "the most important state pay-to-play reform law three years in a row."

"If he's telling the truth, than his clients should ask themselves whether they want to be represented by such a clearly incompetent attorney," said Michael Makarski, the spokesman.

He called the charges against Mason "completely false," adding, "No campaign workers were paid in cash. All campaign workers were paid through a check and identified by name and address in the report."

According to Mason's ELEC report, there are various discrepancies in amounts between the initial checks and the itemized list of who was paid. The checks made to cash range from $120 to $525, and a total of 48 checks were made out to 152 people, according to Mason's filing.

Unlike Mason's reaction to Bhalla's misstep, the councilman is not calling on Mason to resign

"People make mistakes, and when you make mistakes you should correct them," Bhalla said.

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