A lot has been said about the Township Committee Race in West Amwell this year. I’m tying up some loose ends to see where everything stands today. First, to recap:
- The Democratic Campaign “West Amwell Proud” has received a staggering $45,000 in contributions
- 3/4 of that total, or over $33,000 comes from unions
- Over half, or nearly $24,000, comes from pro-PennEast unions
On the Union angle in general, Mr. Richard for the West Amwell Proud has argued that “everyone is doing it” – that is, all the Democrats are taking union money, so it’s no surprise that his campaign is as well.
Except this is false. In the details section below, we show that no municipal candidate has taken any reportable union dollars going back many years.
Mr. Richard has argued that he has a “litmus test” for what unions he will accept money from. But here’s the problem: by his standards, Mr. Richard is perfectly fine in taking money from pro-PennEast unions. Unions that have spent time and money promoting PennEast, who have intimidated opposition at scoping meetings and even tried to block people from moving freely at the South Hunterdon High School PennEast meeting in 2014.
West Amwell Proud’s largest donor is Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 9. They’ve donated an unbelievable $16,000 to his campaign. And here’s what the head of that union has to say about PennEast:
“For the record Plumbers and Pipefitters local 9 is 120% in favor of the pipeline”
Mr. Richard has stated that $45,000 for a 3 man campaign is no big deal. Except it is – if you look at donation records for races in the area no one has received anything like this money before, not even large municipalities like Hopewell Township. The donations to the West Amwell Proud are simply unprecedented in their size.
Mr. Richard has told people he has a plan to fight PennEast. Except he doesn’t – there is no record of him or anyone in his campaign doing anything at all against the pipeline. The campaign’s only actions to date has been a single $250 donation and a blurb on their brochures that they’re against the pipeline. It is clear that the Plan is: We have No Plan.
There’s good news and bad news here overall. I was concerned that these donations may have been indicative of a larger effort by Unions to infiltrate townships along the PennEast route and thwart opposition to it. Fortunately, that does not seem to be the case. There are no large union donations to anyone, Democrat or Republican, except for the West Amwell Proud here in West Amwell. So that’s something at least.
The bad news is that is basically a candidate trying to buy an election with huge amounts of Union money, and most of those unions are whole-heartedly pro-PennEast.
Let’s recap where we’ve been, and what we want to wrap up. There was the initial flyer from the Republican Campaign about $30,000 in contributions to the West Amwell Proud campaign, the fact that Mr. Richards is a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, and that the majority of his donations were union donations.
There was the breakdown of the contributions, showing that over half were from pro-PennEast unions.
There was Mr. Richard’s response, my rebuttal of that response, and finally the PANJ The Cost Of the Pipeline Radio show, where we both outlined our positions on the topic.
From all of that material, there were a lot of lose ends hanging. What exactly were the stances of these exact unions on PennEast? How much do campaigns cost in our area? How about contested “hot” campaigns? Are unions flooding the region in a coordinated attack, or was this an isolated incident? Is Eric Richard an environmentalist with serious environmental cred? And what is the real Democratic plan against PennEast in our township?
If that wasn’t enough, several notable individuals in the area have weighed in on the topic, and we’ve seen more money come into the campaign, and even gotten some formal statements from the unions themselves. I’m going to try to address all of those issues wrap them all up in a nice little package today.
What are the Union’s Stances on PennEast?
Mr. Richard used a rather strange “litmus test” to determine whether he should accept donations from a union or not. I don’t agree with it, and it makes no sense to me. His test is “I won’t accept money from a union that directly benefits from PennEast”. He doesn’t care what a union’s stance is, only that it does not “directly benefit”.
By his test, if a union does not benefit, presumably with jobs, then it’s OK to contribute to them. Even if that union has told FERC that they are pro-PennEast. Even if that union has attended scoping meetings and helped ring the room to intimidate anti-PennEast attendees. Even if that union has spent money to promote PennEast, it doesn’t matter to him.
But if the union will receive jobs from PennEast, than he will not accept the money. So if a union is actually fulfilling its mission and helping to promote jobs for their members, they are bad. But if a union spends money and time and effort to promote PennEast, without netting a single job for their members, then they are the good guys.
How in the world this make any sense?
To help find out, I reached out to the heads of the unions who contributed to Mr. Richard’s campaign. Most of them didn’t respond, but one did – Michael Maloney, the head of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 9. And Mr. Richard’s number one campaign donor with $16,000. Here’s what he had to say (emphasis mine):
For the record Plumbers and Pipefitters local 9 is %120 [sic] in favor of the pipeline. Having said that non [sic] of my members will work on this project it is a different Pipefitter local’s jurisdiction. The pipeline is going were there is already is a pipeline and or transmission lines that exist right? Also for the groups that are opposed what is there idea to bring power to the region. Bottom line pipelines bring gas to regions so Co-Generation plants can be built to supply electric to homes for light and heat. Should we go backwards and use candles again or fireplaces. This will create jobs jobs and more jobs.
This should sound familiar to anyone who has been fighting the pipeline for awhile now. The unions are reiterating incorrect facts that PennEast is feeding them. We know there is no public need for the pipeline, and it’s not actually co-located, and no one will be using “candles” if it’s not built.
And these are the words of the campaign’s largest donor.
First, I’m going to look at the donations to the West Amwell Proud campaign in a bit more detail, and their stances on the pipeline.
Since the first flyer hit, the war chest for the West Amwell Proud have gone from $30,000 to $45,000, and they’ve been spending the money freely. They are now down to just $15,000 or so in their bank account. The timelines for those donations are below.
Here’s a breakdown. The first set of primary donations:
May 06 – $9,700
May 09 adjustment -$400
May 16 – $1,500
May 31 – $1,500
June 03 – $500
June 06 – $500
June 10 – $750
June 13 – $6,000
Here is the general campaign donations:
July 21 – $500
Aug 09 – $1,000
Sep 18 – $8,200
In total, $27,075 moved over from the primary campaign, plus $14,000 in new donations. The total is $41,455, which doesn’t include what they spent on the primary. The grand total for the whole campaign is $45,000+. So they’ve had tens of thousands of dollars in the coffers since the Spring, but haven’t done anything against the pipeline until September (and that – not much. See below).
Since then, the money has flown out the door quickly. The campaign is down to just $15,000 according to their latest filing, with over $30,000 already spent.
This is the campaign that blasts the incumbents for rate hikes and over spending. Well, we can see what this campaign’s spending is like – out of control, with no end in sight.
Is $45,000 a reasonable amount of money to spend?
Mr. Richard and others have stated or implied that $45,000 is a reasonable amount of money to spend in a township committee race like this. The reasoning seems to be :
- There are three candidates, so it costs 3x as much
- This is a contested race and an uphill battle, so we need more money
- All the Democrats are taking in basketfuls of union money, so we should too!
First, we can debunk the first aspect directly. If candidates share a platform their costs are much lower than if they went at it alone. They can share consulting fees, mailers, etc. I note in the West Amwell Proud campaign there have been no separate mailings per candidate, it’s one straight ticket with all three men on every mailing. There may be a slight bump for more candidates but it is probably closer to 1.25x than 3x.
On the other three points, we can verify this pretty easily by looking at past and current races in the area. And of course for both Republican and Democratic campaigns.
2014 Delaware Township race, Lockwood and McCarthy received under the joint $8,500 limit and had no contributions in excess of $299, so were not required to disclose any.
Ditto in 2011.
In 2008 they received $7,700 in donations. None of the donations in excess of $299 were from unions or otherwise noteworthy.
In 2005, they were under the reporting limit but received $2,500 total of donations who were individually in excess of $299. Again none of them were noteworthy.
In 2006, Thompson and Alderfer were under the reporting limits and had one unremarkable contribution of $1,000.
In 2015, Roger Locandro(R) was under the reporting limits for the primary, which he lost.
In 2012, Locandro received $6,077.50 in the primary, and a further $3,600 in the general election. He had $3,600 in large donations, none of them remarkable.
In 2009, Locandro transferred $5,372.16 to his primary from a previous election fund, and in the general election received an additional unremarkable $3,371.72 in donations.
Zach Rich’s 2010 campaign in West Amwell reported $1,871.43 of contributions (most of which were not required to be disclosed).
The Republican West Amwell 2016 Campaign with 3 candidates is so far is under the reporting limits overall, and have reported two unremarkable individual donations for a total of $1,000.
In 2013, Zach Rich’s campaign was under the reportable limits.
In 2004, Ron Shapella (D) West Amwell received $7,060.92.
In 2005, Shapella received $4,666.66.
In 2008, Shapella received $5,962.89.
In 2009, Shapella received $5,710.
In 2015, Shapella received $4,289.89.
In 2006, Bill Corboy (yes, the same Bill Corboy running on this ticket now) raised $6,233.65, with just over $4,300 coming from large donations. None of those large donations were notable or controversial.
Now let’s move on to much larger neighbor Hopewell Township. Republicans and Democrats have had a lot of back and forth there, and the 2014 was hotly contested. On the Democratic side, two Democrats joined up, Sandom and Kuchinski. They received a total of $23,031.76, including about $17,000 in large donations, of which $12,000 was from one of the candidates to their own campaign.
On the Republican side in 2014, we have the Shaub & Cefalone Committee. They received a total of $9,928.12 in donations, including $2,750 in large donations that were unremarkable.
In 2016, the Hopewell Township Democratic ticket of two people (McLaughlin and Ruger) have so far raised $5,193.35 in the general election and around $3,000 in the primary.
The Republican side in Hopewell in 2016 were under the reportable limit in the primary and general elections.
I included Hopewell Township because they are much larger than West Amwell in every respect – twice the physical size, 6 times the population and a budget 6 times larger than ours. The Democrats in a hotly contested race there in 2014 received $23,031.76 in total – over $20,000 less than the Democratic campaign in little West Amwell Township.
In NONE of these races were there any union donations in excess of $299. None of them.
Look at the numbers this way – Mr. Richard’s campaign received $23,750 from pro-PennEast unions alone. That’s more than the total numbers raised by the Democratic campaign in the comparatively huge Hopewell Township in 2014.
West Amwell Proud and Mr. Richard’s Actions against the Pipeline
Some prominent people have spoken in favor of Mr. Richard, including Jeff Tittel of NJ Sierra Club. Micah Rasmussen, a prominent PennEast opponent who was the former Director of Corporate Communications for New Jersey Resources and Press Secretary to Democratic Govenor McGreevey. And Sam Thompson, Delaware Township Committee Member.
I have a great deal of respect for all three men. Jeff Tittel is tireless in running up and down the state on a daily basis fighting for the Environment and trying to undo the damage the current NJ Administration seems hell bent on creating. Micah of course has been a key member of PennEast opposition and I’ve worked closely with him on several projects. And Sam, along with the rest of the Delaware Township Committee, have worked tirelessly to Stop PennEast. There is no township with fiercer or more determined opposition to PennEast.
But I have not been able to verify any Environmental activities from the candidate. Sam has indicated that Mr. Richard has been concerned about PennEast for some time and has some ideas on how to fight it. But when asked about his ideas for fighting PennEast on my radio show, Mr. Richard drew a blank and more or less indicated they have no plan at all for fighting PennEast.
Both Jeff and Micah have pointed to past legislation Mr. Richard has been involved in, but I haven’t found any references to any of it.
They know Mr. Richard on a personal and professional basis and people will have to decide if it’s accurate or perhaps to some degree an extension of party loyalty.
Looking specifically at PennEast, I see absolutely no activity recorded anywhere for any of the West Amwell Proud Candidates until September 2016. None of the West Amwell Proud candidates have intervened or commented to FERC, and I don’t see their names on any of the many petitions, action alerts or any other material related to opposing the project. Suddenly as election season heated up they took a position against PennEast, and on Oct 1st cut a $250 check for West Amwell Citizens Against the Pipeline.
These types of things don’t happen in West Amwell. As I joke to people, if there’s a big scandal it’s that someone ran over someone else’s chicken, or a teenager got caught smoking pot on George Washington Overlook.
Seeing tens of thousands of dollars of pro-PennEast money flooding into this election is simply shocking, and I had to dig in hard to see what was really going on here. Fortunately this is not a full-scale move against towns along the route, but I do think we have a clear case of a candidate trying to buy an election. And they’re buying it with money that unabashedly for the PennEast pipeline, and have relentlessly campaigned for it.
Seeing a candidate suddenly “wake up” to the PennEast threat only a few weeks before the election, and not have any concrete plans for dealing with it at all, is almost as shocking.
And we should leave the “everybody is doing it” rhetoric back in the school yard where it belongs.
At the end of the day there has been some slick words and razzle dazzle on the issues, but we know from PennEast that fancy talk and heavy stock full color brochure blitzes count for nothing. What matters is the verifiable facts, and verifiable stories put into full context.
Using that “litmus test”, the West Amwell Proud campaign platform falls apart.