One ordinance attempts to regulate contributions from real estate developers, while the other further restricts existing regulations regarding donations from businesses to candidates, officials, and political committees that decide on redevelopment agreements and contracts with the city.
"These ordinances help to remove the linkage between the money and decisions made by politicians, and ... [help to] remove the appearance of a conflict of interest," said James Castiglione, vice president of People for Open Government, a local citizen-led group that collected the 1,074 signatures to bring the measures before the council.
Ron Hine, POG's secretary, took Castiglione's comments a step further. "The public has grown increasingly cynical about the political influence of big business, lobbyists, and special interests, and Hoboken is no exception," said Hine. "Our zoning standards, applications, board approvals, and the overall planning process increasingly have become developer-driven."
One ordinance attempts to regulate contributions from developers.
Officially, the "2007 Redevelopment Pay-to-Play Ordinance" prohibits donations from developers to candidates or officials during the period in which the project is first proposed until it reaches completion or is rejected.
Redevelopment is a city-run process of taking a blighted area, creating special zoning for it, and seeking the best developers and contractors to build according to a city-approved plan.
A city that designates a "redevelopment area" assumes much control for development and can also employ eminent domain in taking over private property.
The hope is that by instating these prohibitions, developers will have less of an alleged influence over decisions made by local politicians, thereby allowing for greater community involvement with regards to what and where buildings go up in their city.
If officials or candidates are found to be in violation of the ordinance, they are given a 30-day period following the next general election to reimburse the contribution made by the developer.
If they fail to do so, any private citizen is able to sue either the developer, politician, or candidate, or committee for the violation, which will result in the developer's contract with the city being voided and making the business entity ineligible for future redevelopment agreements or contracts for four calendar years from the date of the violation.
No 'extraordinary unspecified services'
The other ordinance makes some changes in the existing regulations about donations.
That ordinance is known as the 2007 Public Contracting Reform Ordinance. It reaffirms many of the existing prohibitions involving awarding public contracts to certain contributors. But there are further restrictions on campaign financing.
In the new ordinance, the monetary threshold was reduced from $400 to $300 that a candidate or political committee in Hoboken can receive from a business entity.
Another important new feature is the inclusion of "extraordinary unspecified services" contracts in the definition. That is defined in the ordinance as media, public relations, lobbying or consulting for the politician.
As with the other ordinance, private citizens are able to bring suits against the violators, resulting in a similar penalty to the developer in which his current contract is voided and any future agreements of contracts in the next four years are prohibited.
Concerns from the council
Although support for the ordinances was unanimous, levels of enthusiasm amongst council members varied, with some expressing concern over the possible consequences that could result from implementing such campaign restrictions.
The councilmen argued that the changes could make politics, which is already a rich man's game, even more exclusive, removing the ability for poorer candidates to raise the necessary funds to remain competitive with a wealthy candidate who self-funds their campaign.
Councilman-at-Large Peter Cammarano was one of the concerned voices.
"Any time you restrict fundraising capability, you are cutting off a class of people from participating either effectively or meaningfully or competitively in the political process," said Cammarano.
The councilman proposed putting safe-harbor provisions into the ordinance that would have allowed candidates whose opponent could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through personal financing, to be exempt from certain restrictions in order to compete.
"I think there is at least the possibility that there are people whose [mayoral] candidacies in 2009 are going to die as a result of what we [did here] tonight," he said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Christopher Campos shared Cammarano's assessment.
"My fear, having grown up in the Housing Authority in Hoboken, is that those with wealth have an unfair advantage here in Hoboken," said Campos.
In response the council members' fears, Kurta said that he didn't agree with the councilmen's reservations, adding that the focus of the ordinance was to limit the dealings of a very small segment of the business community in Hoboken, limiting developers from having too much influence over politicians.
"There are many businesses in town that can be reached out to [for campaign financing] that have very limited dealings with the city," said Kurta. "Spending a lot of money doesn't guarantee a victory. If someone has a good reputation and good ideas, they can run a successful campaign."
Mayor David Roberts, in an interview last week, rejected Ron Hine's assessment that developers are driving city decisions. He agreed that public interest is paramount in okaying development projects.
"We have a policy of zoning by ordinance and redevelopment plans, not by variance," he said. "When a zoning change is made, we expect [it will] benefit the public. Making sure the public interest is advanced, rather than the limited interests of a developer, has always been the hallmark of this administration."
In order to balance the playing field between candidates of different economic classes, Roberts proposed prohibiting campaign donations all together and allowing the government to issue a fixed amount to the most serious of candidates, which he says can be determined by a high number of signatures.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org