The Burlington County Democratic Committee's chairman and former treasurer say they advised and made funding requests of an officer of a political action committee that donated to the former Hoboken mayor accused in a corruption scandal.
Democratic Chairman Rick Perr and former committee treasurer Jeff Meyer previously had denied any involvement with the Medford-based New Frontier Committee, but numerous e-mails obtained by the Burlington County Times show the two corresponded with New Frontier's treasurer Jack Senechal on fundraising, campaign contributions and committee finances.
Senechal has served as treasurer since the political action committee was founded in 2006 by former county Democratic Committee chairman Gary Karr.
Senechal, also treasurer of the Medford Democratic Committee, said Perr asked him to assist with a "new PAC being formed" in 2006. He said he had no prior political experience.
"After it was set up, I relied on the advice and recommendations of Jeff and Rick," Senechal said. "I did not fundraise in any way, and I have not met most of the individuals who gave or received money. + I keep the books and I tried to do the best job I could."
Perr said he didn't recall asking Senechal to be treasurer. Also, two former county Democratic Committee employees said Meyer frequently gave them contribution checks for the PAC.
In interviews, Perr and Meyer denied any wrongdoing and insisted they did not control the PAC. They said they sought donations and directed people where to donate to benefit the Democrats.
"I would make requests of the New Frontier Committee to make donations maybe a couple times during the course of the year, just like I would with any other committee or donor," Perr said Thursday.
Any involvement by Perr or Meyer in New Frontier activities could be interpreted as a violation of New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission regulations because their names and mailing addresses are not listed on any New Frontier filings.
Commission rules require PACs to disclose "the names and mailing addresses of all the persons having control over the affairs of the prospective continuing political committee or who, directly or through an agent, participated in the initial organization of the committee."
Informed of Perr's and Meyer's communications with the New Frontier treasurer, Burlington County Republican Committee spokesman Chris Russell said the GOP would call for an investigation.
"As we suspected from the beginning, it appears the New Frontier PAC was nothing more than a front for Rick Perr and Jeff Meyer to conduct a pay-to-play scheme," Russell said. "Knowing it was a blatant violation of state campaign finance laws for him to officially chair the PAC, Rick Perr ordered his puppets to form the PAC and then ran it from behind the scenes. We will be calling for a full investigation by (the state Election Law Enforcement Commission) into Perr's involvement while we determine whether there were any potential criminal violations committed."
Burlington County Republicans began criticizing the New Frontier Committee last month after news reports revealed it had donated several thousand dollars to the campaign of Democrat Peter Cammarano III, who resigned as Hoboken's mayor amid allegations he accepted $25,000 in bribes - through a middleman - from an FBI informant.
The New Frontier Committee was not mentioned in any of the FBI's criminal filings.
New Frontier also has been accused by Republicans of being a vehicle for "wheeling," a process that allows individual campaign donors or businesses to circumvent campaign contribution limits or pay-to-play laws restricting businesses from receiving lucrative contracts from officials whose elections they helped finance.
The state's pay-to-play law restricts businesses that contribute more than $300 to state or county candidates from receiving contracts of more than $17,500.
Many municipalities also have their own pay-to-play restrictions that disqualify businesses from receiving work if they have donated more than $300 to a local candidate or candidate committee.
However, the laws don't restrict those businesses from donating to political action committees, which then can donate the money to candidates.
In New Frontier's three years of operations, it raised about $119,000 and donated about $115,000 to Democratic candidates, mostly in Burlington County and South Jersey.
Among the donors that contributed to the New Frontier PAC, were engineering firms CMX Inc. of Howell and Remington & Vernick of Haddonfield, as well as the Trenton law firm Gluck Walrath. All three have received contracts from Hoboken, according to public records.
The majority of the e-mails obtained by the Burlington County Times are correspondence between Senechal and Meyer. In a Jan. 2, 2007, e-mail with the subject line "New Frontier Committee," Senechal asked Meyer for Burlington County Democratic Committee account information as well as the occupation and employer of a donor and the purpose of a $15,000 expenditure.
In the e-mail, Senechal also told Meyer that two checks Meyer had given him were deposited and should clear soon. In a follow-up e-mail the next day, Senechal told Meyer : "There is a balance of $2,700 in the account as of today. Let me know what you need."
In an Oct. 7, 2007, e-mail with the subject heading "New Frontier Committee reporting," Senechal asked Meyer for the correct address for the "Burzichelli for Assembly" committee and informed Meyer that checks from the New Frontier Committee to the campaign of Democrat George Kotch for county surrogate and to the Hillary Clinton Exploratory Committee for President had been written but neither had been cashed.
"Obviously, you know that I don't give a hoot one way or the other. I am reporting the money as being 'expended' either way. But I just don't want George coming back to you wondering where your commitment may be," Senechal wrote.
According to state Election Law Enforcement Commission reports, New Frontier donated $500 to John Burzichelli, D-3rd of Paulsboro, on Sept. 12, 2007.
It also donated $2,000 to Burzichelli on March 30, 2009. Kotch ended up cashing a $500 check from New Frontier, but Clinton's committee returned a $1,000 check.
E-mails also show that Meyer provided Senechal with instructions on making a $300 charitable donation to Burlington City for recreation and tourism.
The PAC donated that amount to Burlington City the day after the e-mail, according to campaign finance reports.
In addition, Meyer provided Senechal with the campaign addresses or account information for donations to candidates in Hoboken, including Cammarano.
In March 13, 2008, Meyer e-mailed Senechal the address for the Voice for All Hoboken campaign fund, for which Cammarano was campaign manager.
In May, 2009, Meyer sent Senechal the routing and account numbers for the Cammarano for Mayor election fund. State Election Law Enforcement Commission reports show New Frontier donated $4,000 to Voice for All Hoboken in March 2008. The PAC then donated $15,400 to Cammarano's election fund between April and June of this year.
Meyer resigned as treasurer of the Burlington County Democratic Committee on Aug. 7, after it was revealed he had helped raise funds for Cammarano's election and served on his mayoral transition team.
Mount Holly Mayor Jules Thiessen was named acting-treasurer Thursday.
Reached Thursday, Meyer said he helped raise funds for Cammarano, but he had no knowledge at the time the politician was allegedly accepting bribes.
"I am deeply disgusted and disturbed by the actions of a candidate that I supported vigorously," he said.
Meyer defended his communications with Senechal, describing them as "aggressive fundraising."
"I'm proud of the fact that I've been an aggressive, persistent and passionate fundraiser for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates that I believe embrace my vision and values for government," he said.
Despite Meyer's denials, Heather Israel and Christine Scott, both former county Democratic Committee employees, said they believed Meyer was in charge of the New Frontier PAC.
Israel, who served as political director for the county committee between February 2008 and January this year, said Meyer often had her deliver checks to Senechal or pick up donations from him.
"I thought the PAC belonged to the Burlington County Democrats because Jeff controlled it," Israel said.
Scott, who was the political director for the county committee from March to June, said: "New Frontier was one of many accounts that I would deposit checks into. I would receive these checks from Jeff Meyer or be directed where to get them from Jeff Meyer."
Scott is the sister of George Scott, director of government marketing for the engineering firm Adams, Rehmann & Heggan Associates in Hammonton, Atlantic County.
The firm formerly employed Meyer as a public relations consultant, but terminated its contract with him in April for "financial reasons," George Scott said.
Meyer said claims he ran the New Frontier Committee were "disheartening - deeply, deeply disheartening."
Perr also communicated with Senechal on at least three occasions, according to the e-mails. An Oct. 17, 2008, e-mail from Perr to Senechal asked for a $3,000 check from the "Medford account" to pay for a fundraiser at the Medford Village Country Club.
Senechal's e-mail responded with the balances of the Medford Democratic Committee and New Frontier accounts. There were not enough funds in the Medford account. Ultimately, the Medford Democrats paid the bill in November.
Perr also wrote Senechal in March of this year, asking if New Frontier had received any donations from a specific attorney or law firm. Senechal responded that it had not.
In the third e-mail obtained by the newspaper, Perr wrote Senechal on May 12 this year telling him: "Do not move any money until after we speak."
When asked about that e-mail, Perr said, "That was legal advice." He declined to elaborate.
Perr said all his other communications with Senechal were routine and in line with his duties as party chairman.
"When people asked where to fundraise, where to make donations, that was one of many places I told people they could donate to, to benefit Democratic causes," he said.
Meanwhile, New Frontier's chairman, Hainesport attorney Dean Buono, said last week that the PAC would be dissolved after an audit of its finances was completed.
While Buono has been registered as chairman since 2006, he has said he was not actively involved in fundraising or in deciding to whom the PAC donated. His name was merely on the paperwork, he said.
He has previously said he did not know who was running the political action committee.
Note: Dave and I won first place in "Responsible Journalism, First Amendment (The Art Weissman Memorial Award)" in the 2009 New Jersey Press Association's Better Newspaper Contest for a series of articles including this one.