N.J. comptroller calls for closing ‘pay-to-play’ loophole

New Jersey’s “pay-to-play” law has not prevented local governments from steering contracts to politically connected vendors, according to results of a new audit.

An exemption in the pay-to-play rules allows local governments in the Garden State to award contracts to campaign donors if there is a “fair-and-open” process.

New Jersey Comptroller Matt Boxer says qualifying for that exemption is ridiculously easy.

“As long as a contract opportunity is minimally advertised and selection parameters of any kind are drafted, the ultimate award is within the entity’s discretion,” Boxer said. “And it’s immune from outside review.”  Boxer said Thursday the loophole essentially returns local governments to the unregulated contracting system that existed before the pay-to-play rules were enacted. He’s calling on the Legislature to eliminate the fair-and-open exemption. New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission executive director Jeff Brindle also would like to see the “fair-and-open” loophole closed. “New Jersey’s political history is littered with examples of private contractor securing lucrative public contracts through targeted contributions,” Brindle said. “Tighter contracting rules, a simpler pay-to-play system, and more disclosure of contributions, particularly by contractors, are critical to deterring this sort of corruption.” There’s no indication when the state Legislature might act to tighten up the pay-to-play law.

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