Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres is issuing refunds to half-dozen campaign contributors who donated more money than legally allowed under New Jersey campaign finance laws.
State law allows an individual donor to contribute up to $2,600 to any candidate running for office. Six of the mayor’s donors contributed in excess of the allowable limit.
All Out Bail Bond of Broadway donated $2,700 to Torres’ campaign. His treasurer refunded $100 to the company.
Companies and unions, like individuals, are capped at $2,600 per candidate per election.
Alimi Builders of Wyckoff contributed $2,850. The mayor’s treasurer issued a $250 refund for exceeding the contribution limit.
Madison Avenue lawyer Nestor Guzman donated $3,000; he was issued a $400 refund.
Real estate developer Jeffrey Kessler donated $2,750. He was refunded $150.
Thomas Neil of Grand Hardware donated $2,850. He received a $250 refund.
Paterson Fire Officers Association donated $2,750 receiving a refund of $150.
The excessive contributions emerged after the mayor was forced to merge his campaign account with his inaugural fund account. Torres said refunding the portion of donations that exceeded the legal limit was the right thing to do.
“We didn’t believe we needed to file the inaugural celebration,” said Torres. He drew distinction between a committee to elect and a committee to celebrate. “ELEC [New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission] said we had to join the contribution, as a result, some of the contributors exceeded the amount, and therefore we refunded the difference.”
When asked wouldn’t a reasonable person looking at the list of excessive contribution refunds along with the mayor’s initial reluctance to report presume he was attempting to hide the excessive contributions, Torres said: “I didn’t try to hide anything.”
Torres filed his 2014 inaugural fund report after news stories in the Paterson Press suggested he might be playing foul of state campaign finance laws.
“We disclosed it, we added it up, we noticed that it exceeded, and we gave it back,” asserted Torres. When asked about the 2002 and 2006 inaugural fund reports, Torres said those records no longer exist.
“There is nothing to report because there is nothing there,” said Torres. “Those documents don’t exist anymore.”
State law requires a candidate to retain records for four years. Joe Donohue, Joe Donohue, deputy director for the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, declined to comment on specifics about Torres’ case.
Donohue said the commission has the power to subpoena records from a candidate’s bank. Candidates setup bank accounts where contribution checks are deposited and from which expenditure checks are written. However, obtaining those records depends on the bank’s retention policies, and whether the bank records continue to exist for the particular accounts.
Torres was fined $17,950 in 2012 for failing to include certain information about his donors in a 2006 campaign finance report.
The mayor’s main opponent in the most recent mayoral election, Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, said Torres is attempting to avoid a repeat of 2012. Torres’ campaign treasurer at the time Dorothy Korybski overlooked the inclusion of donors’ occupation and employer information.
“It’s encouraging that he has learned his lesson, [albeit] the hard way” said Sayegh about the mayor’s inaugural fund report submission. “Transparency has always been one of his short comings, so it’s good that what he’s done in the dark is being brought to light.”
Torres refunded the portions that exceeded the contribution limit for July 2014 donations in November 2014. Campaign finance laws state a candidate ought to return that portion of the donation which exceeded the contribution limit “within 48 hours of such receipt.”
Correction (June 1st, 2015): A previous story stated Joe Donohue was a spokesperson for NJ ELEC, when in fact, he is the deputy director.