Mayor Andre Sayegh’s controversial One Paterson group, formed following his big mayoral win, raised more than $240,000.
Much of the money has been spent on charitable causes and professional services, said William Pascrell, III, a trustee on the board of One Paterson, a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit organization.
“We’ve used quite a bit of money to do a lot of charitable events,” said Pascrell, who is the son of congressman Bill Pascrell. He provided a sample of the donations One Paterson has made to charitable causes in the city. Among them the $30,000 spent on improving fields in Paterson.
The group has also given donations between $500-1,000 to the Haitian Civic Organization, Nifty sports league, New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC), and School 25 parent-teacher organization.
“It’s a very small sample,” said former mayoral candidate Pedro Rodriguez, who has criticized Sayegh for creating the group, when told of where the organization has been spending its money.
Pascrell said the group also spent on legal, accounting, and book keeping services. On top of that it created a new website for the public, he said.
One Paterson has $76,500 remaining.
Pascrell said the group raised $242,000 since its inception. Sayegh held his inaugural ball at the Brownstone last year which raised money for One Paterson. The event cost $95,000 to put on, he said.
Some have criticized Sayegh and the organization for not disclosing its donors. Under federal law, the group doesn’t have to disclose its donors.
Rodriguez has alleged Sayegh could circumvent existing pay-to-play law by using the organization.
“The Sayegh administration has brought to Paterson a more sophisticated level of corruption,” alleged Rodriguez.
Sayegh did not respond to a call for comment for this story. He also did not respond to a series of questions sent via text message. One of the questions asked whether any of the donors received any government contracts over the past 11 months and whether any of the contributors had before the city or are seeking any municipal business.
“What’s the purpose of One Paterson? Are there any conflicts?” asked councilman Luis Velez, who, until now, had been closely allied to the mayor. “They have to be more transparent.”
When asked if One Paterson would disclose its donors, Pascrell said, “I don’t have a problem with that, but the board has to vote on it. I don’t really see an objection to doing that.”
One Paterson’s board is made up of five members. Pascrell, Regana Bracey, Ed Farmer, Sami Merhi, and Ramon Pagan.
Social welfare organizations, 501(c)(4) groups, have come under criticism for their involvement in politics. “The term ‘dark money’ is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding – though a minority do disclose some or all of their donors, by choice or in response to specific circumstances,” according to the website Open Secrets.
Pascrell said that’s not the case with One Paterson. He said One Paterson is not engaged in political spending.
“This is not a dark money organization,” said Pascrell, a lobbyist and political strategist. “We’re not doing what is going on in Trenton. We’re not involved in that. Our main goal is to promote the city of Paterson and bolster the community.”
The group hasn’t filed its nonprofit tax returns. Pascrell said it has obtained an extension from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to file later in the year.
One Paterson is expected to host a new fundraiser in July at the Art Factory, said Pascrell.