Five of the six men in the city’s mayoral race expended $917,944, according to campaign finance reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
Councilman Andre Sayegh led the pack with $366,148, according to his 20-day post-election report made public on Tuesday. He was followed by former school board member Pedro Rodriguez with $301,870.
Rodriguez’s report was not available online. However, state officials confirmed his 20-day post-election report was received. He supplied the $301,870 spending figure for his campaign. He said $220,000 of that amount came from his pocket.
“We didn’t want to be beholden to those who finance our campaign,” said Rodriguez. He criticized his opponents in the race for taking money from special interest groups.
Sayegh, who received the most criticism for taking outside campaign donations, won a landslide victory on election night while Rodriguez finished third place.
Alex Mendez, who came in second place, has yet to file the three required campaign finance reports.
“It’s unfortunate and it’s unfair especially for those who play by the rules and file on time,” said Sayegh.
“That’s disappointing. I can see being tardy, but not filing at all is not good,” said councilman Michael Jackson.
Jackson spent roughly $20,000 in the race. He hasn’t filed his 20-day post-election report. He plans to have it submitted soon, he said.
Mendez’s campaign fundraising and spending has been shrouded in mystery leading his opponents to allege he was using “dark” and “dirty” money to fuel his run.
Rodriguez alleged Mendez’s campaign was funded by “international money.” He had previously said Mendez raised money while on a trip to the Dominican Republic. It’s illegal for people from foreign countries to make campaign contributions.
“I heard those rumors,” said Sayegh of Mendez.
Throughout the campaign, Mendez claimed to be running a campaign with limited funds. However, his ubiquitous campaign signs, television advertisements, internet ads, and a television show suggested something very different.
Some of his large campaign signs did not have the required “paid for by” text.
Mendez did not respond to a call for comment on Tuesday.
Mendez received the endorsement of former Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernández. His campaign aired advertisements featuring Fernández’s endorsement in Spanish language media.
A voter on election had no idea who was funding Mendez’s campaign, said Rodriguez. He criticized the state for not doing enough to penalize candidates for late or failure to file campaign finance reports.
“Either ELEC makes a statement with this election or it needs to disappear,” said Rodriguez. “If they cannot take action prior to an election and have the tools to stop a candidacy or hold somebody accountable before an election then, really, the role of ELEC is worthless.”
ELEC’s role is not to dissuade candidates from running or to take them off the ballot, said state officials.
It takes time for a campaign finance violation complaint to translate into penalties.
“We have to do an investigation,” said Joe Donahue, deputy director of New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. Investigations, depending on the complexity of the case, can take time. Sometimes years.
The state has levied penalties against candidates in Paterson elections. It fined former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres.
Just last year, the state filed complaints against three city council candidates for failure to comply with state election law.
Candidates receive letters when they fail to file campaign reports on time, said Donahue.
Mendez’s failure to file contributed to his defeat. He was repeatedly attacked by his opponents for not filing reports on time. His failure was amplified by a Super PAC that favored Sayegh which ran a series of mailers targeting Mendez.
The Super PAC, Progressive Values Committee of Bayonne, hasn’t disclosed how much it spent to support Sayegh.
Neither Rodriguez nor Sayegh had evidence of foreign money flowing into Mendez’s campaign.
“We wouldn’t know. He hasn’t disclosed his donors,” said Sayegh.
The state hasn’t received detective Alex Cruz’s 20-day post-election report. His last report listed $131,376 on the expenditure line.
Cruz’s bid for the office was severely damaged by residency questions. He lived in the city part-time. His wife and family live in Little Falls.
Councilman William McKoy, who is the longest serving member of the governing body, spent $106,473 in the race.
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