A law firm slated to receive work from the city gave $1,000 to mayor Andre Sayegh’s campaign, according to campaign finance records, raising questions about compliance with municipal pay-to-play ordinance.
Sayegh campaign’s filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows Frank Sciro of the Sciro and Marotta law firm gave $1,000 on Apr. 14, 2018.
“I have reviewed my records and I did not make a contribution to Andre Sayegh in 2018,” said Sciro via email on Friday morning.
When provided a copy of the campaign finance report showing his contribution amount and date, Sciro suggested the Sayegh campaign erroneously reported he had made a donation.
“I have asked campaign to correct their records,” said Sciro.
Municipal pay-to-play law bars the city from awarding professional contracts, like legal services, to firms that gave to the campaigns of people running for office in the city. A firm expected to get a contract from the city has to submit a disclosure statement stating it did not donate to any candidates for municipal or county offices in a 12-month period.
Sciro & Marotta’s disclosure statement filed with the city in September 2018 did not list any campaign reportable contributions.
The firm had been getting legal work from the city for years. A firm that makes a reportable contribution, $300 or more, during the term of a public contract has 60 days from date of the donation to request the candidate or committee return the contribution to correct a pay-to-play violation, according to state law.
“They weren’t awarded a contract, they are just on a list for work. I can very easily remove them from the list,” said Sayegh on Thursday.
When asked if he planned to remove the firm from the list, Sayegh said if there’s a pay-to-play violation he would.
Sayegh could also refund the $1,000 contribution his campaign reportedly received from Sciro to cure the alleged violation. Sayegh sponsored the pay-to-play ordinance during his 10-year tenure as councilman of the 6th Ward.
The City Council approved a list of 28 firms for legal work last month. Sayegh expanded the list of contracted law firms from 13. Council members at the time said each of the 28 firms were awarded contracts with a $20,000 cap, but the resolution did not have the typical “not to exceed” clause.
“That’s a clear violation of pay to play,” said Pedro Rodriguez, one of Sayegh’s opponents in last year’s mayoral race. “This is something I spoke about during the campaign. Sayegh is a master in circumventing the law.”
Rodriguez repeatedly hammered Sayegh for his alleged ties to special interest groups throughout the campaign. He suggested the mayor may have expanded the list to benefit those who helped him win office.
“What about the ones we cannot see?” said Rodriguez referring to the donations Sayegh’s civic organization, One Paterson Foundation, collected in July. “He has so much dark money.”
Sayegh has not released a list of people who gave to the controversial One Paterson Foundation.
Updated 1:20 p.m.