The list reads like a who’s-who of township professionals: the planning and zoning solicitor, public defender, prosecutor, solicitor, auditor, engineers, insurance agent, special counsel for redevelopment and the administrative agent for affordable housing.
They’ve all pitched in money to Democrats Hunter Kintzing and Denice DiCarlo, nearly all of it coming in a single day—a fundraiser that brought in just under $32,000 back in September, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) filings.
Most put in $1,000 that night, but several added more significant amounts. Nick Petroni, head of Petroni and Associates, the accounting firm that audits West Deptford, kicked in $3,000; township solicitor Michael Angelini’s law firm donated $5,000; Samuel Martin, the township’s insurance agent, put in $5,000 and T&M Associates, the township’s engineering firm, also donated $5,000.
The Democrats’ opponents call it pay-to-play.
The Democrats themselves, though, say they’re just working with the same system every other candidate uses—including their opponents this year.
“We comply fully with the law,” said West Deptford Democratic Party chair Gerald White. “There are no efforts to hide where the contributions are coming from.”
The state’s pay-to-play laws don’t cover donations by any of the township’s professionals, or any other professional firms who could potentially jockey for a seat at the table, because they’re all open-bid positions. Pay-to-play only prevents donations from companies accepting contracts in excess of $17,500 in situations where there isn’t a fair and open process.
Republican Sam Cianfarini said the Democrats are obscuring the intent of the pay-to-play law.
“This process is the source of our inflated taxes and corruption here,” he said.
His running mate, Ray Chintall, said residents should weigh the meaning of donations like those to the Democrats.
“What is the connection between that funding and the future of West Deptford?” Chintall said.
Cianfarini said he and Chintall have been approached by professional firms—he mentioned engineering firms, though didn’t discuss specifics—who he said have offered their campaign donations along the lines of what the Democrats have received so far.
“We’ve refused every one of them,” Cianfarini said. “I am not beholden to anyone besides the people of this township.”
Chintall and Cianfarini have taken donations from some professional firms, however—insurance agency Cettei & Connell and law firm Ward Shoemaker both donated, though only $300 each.
White said getting money from professional firms is a necessary evil for both sides, and said he’d prefer not to have to ask for campaign money from professionals.
“That’s the system under the law,” he said. “Until there’s a better way, this is the system we have.”
Independent Len Daws, the only candidate to not take any money from any professional firms of any kind, has suggested there is a better way.
Daws has pointed out that the township isn’t in line with the state’s recommendation under the best practices for towns, which would limit donations from professionals doing business with local governments to $300, and is pushing that limitation as part of his campaign, going so far as to introduce a verbal resolution at the Oct. 7 township committee meeting to advance that point.
As it stands now, the Democrats hold an overwhelming advantage at the local level in terms of fundraising, cash on hand and spending, as shown by the 29-day ELEC reports.
Between both the local executive committee and the campaign fund for DiCarlo and Kintzing, the Democrats have about $100,000 in the bank–and that’s after spending $45,000 from July through October.
The Republicans, meanwhile, have spent about $9,000 and have around $7,000 in their coffers.
Daws is taking a completely different route, with a shoestring campaign funded mostly with his own money—all in all, Daws had put together less than $1,000 through Oct. 8.