Who is funding Ferriero

Who's funding Ferriero

August 7, 2008  northjersey.com

Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero has collected more than $195,000 in a private fund from donors — including county contractors and public employees — interested in securing his position as the leader of the county party.

Ferriero has maintained and controlled a fund called “Ferriero for County Chairman” since 2004, according to four years of disclosure forms he filed with the Internal Revenue Service last month.

The fund — which is not subject to state campaign disclosure laws because Ferriero is not a publicly elected official — collected tens of thousands in unlimited donations from some of the county’s and state’s biggest professional contractors. They include partners in the Teaneck law firm of DeCotiis Fitzpatrick Cole & Wisler, PMK Group and Neglia Engineering.

The fund dispersed thousands to politically connected consultants and businesses, as well as $50,000 to the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City for a party last November.

Food and drink were also popular expenditures. The Stony Hill Inn, a favorite Democratic haunt in Hackensack, received more than $6,000 from the fund. Sanzari’s New Bridge Inn was paid more than $1,000, Carvel Ice Cream $750, and Kork and Keg Liquors more than $1,600.

Since the fund doesn’t fall under campaign finance laws, the amount donated does not count against any state limits put in place to curb the practice known as pay-to-play — a perceived link between donors to political parties and the public contracts those donors receive.

PMK, for example, is project manager for the multimillion-dollar Overpeck Park landfill reclamation run by the Bergen County Improvement Authority.

Ferriero’s fund is legal, state officials said. In fact, Bergen County Democratic Organization spokes­man Bill Maer said such an account is necessary.

Maer said that an account dedicated to electing a chairman in a biennial private election is no different than the committee set up for a candidate who runs for public office.

Maer personally donated $750 to Ferriero’s fund. His company, Comprehensive Communications Group, was paid about $31,000 from the fund over the four years. Other donors did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

“It’s to foster goodwill to help his candidacy or to help his position as chairman,” Maer said.

Running for party chairman before 1,100 members of the county democratic committee is “a year-round cycle,” Maer added, which means spending money to get the message out to that select group.

“There’s no such thing as an off year in politics,” Maer said. “You need to be prepared for a challenge.”

Ferriero filed four years of disclosure records within a single week in July — a period that coincided with a flurry of federal subpoenas by the U.S Attorney’s Office, seeking information in part on a defunct grants consulting firm in which he was a partner.

At least 15 Bergen County towns and several agencies have received subpoenas, requesting financial and contract information relating to Ferriero and a firm he shared with the lawyer for the Bergen County Democrats, Dennis Oury, among others.

Joseph Hayden, an attorney retained by Ferriero in connection with the probe, did not return a call for comment Wednesday. Ferriero was out of town.

Maer said the timing of the IRS filings — between July 4 and July 11 — is unrelated to the ongoing federal probe.

“Joe had received conflicting opinions on whether there was a need to file.  He decided to err on the side of caution to file,” Maer said. “This had been in the works for a quite a while.”

Fred Herrmann, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, said private elections for party chairman are not regulated by the commission, which mandates financial disclosure for all levels of candidates who seek office on a public ballot.

“We have no jurisdiction on how they spend it, how they raise it or how they report it,” Herrmann said of a chairman’s fund.

Ferriero is a powerful party chairman, whose favor often determines which Democrats get to run, and likely win, office in Bergen County. During his 10-year tenure as chairman, he is universally credited with reviving a moribund Democratic Party in the formerly GOP-saturated county.

Maer said the donors to Ferriero’s private fund, many of whom also gave to the Bergen County Democratic Organization, gave for philosophical, not professional reasons.

“People believe in his leadership,” Maer said. “He’s had an unbelievable record of achievement as Bergen County Chairman.”

Regarding his own contribution, Maer said, “It was my pleasure.”

“I grew up in Bergen County and I followed the politics of it and I think that he has done a great job.”

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