Burlington County Democratic Committee Chairman Rick Perr has resigned.
Shortly after 10 p.m. Monday, Perr sent an e-mail to party committee Vice Chairwoman Alice Furia stating: "I am resigning as chairman of the Burlington County Democratic Committee effective 12:01 a.m. on September 1, 2009."
On Sunday, a Burlington County Times story revealed Perr's ties to the Medford-based New Frontier Committee, a political action committee that donated more than $19,000 to a North Jersey politician charged in a federal political corruption sting.
The county party's treasurer, Jeff Meyer, resigned earlier this month, citing personal reasons, after news reports revealed he was fundraising for former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III.
Democrats from all levels of government asked for Perr's resignation Monday.
Furia, who will serve as acting chairwoman, released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying the party was moving forward. She also used the statement as an opportunity to target Republicans, who first revealed the political action committee's ties to Cammarano.
"In an unprecedented display of unity, county Democrats at every level and in every region stood up and rebelled against corruption in our own house," Furia said. "It is this dedication to clean and open government that separates us from the Republicans and is a testament to the fortitude of our party."
Furia stressed that the problem was with two individuals and not the party as a whole.
"I have spent my entire life working tirelessly to promote the values and principles of the Democratic Party. Our party has made tremendous gains and won historic elections in the past few years," she said. "That momentum must, and will, continue."
Vice chairwoman for 20 years, Furia has served under eight chairmen. This is her fourth time serving as acting chair of the party. The committee will meet Thursday night, but Democrats said a new chair probably wouldn't be elected at that meeting.
"I think it's highly unlikely," said Lumberton Democratic Committee Chairman Chris Fifis, considered a contender for the top spot. "I think what you're going to find now is the party is going to fall behind Alice Furia as acting chair. She's the bedrock of this party. Right now is a time of healing. The party needs stability."
Fifis said Perr did the right thing by resigning.
"This is all about the party and doing what's right for the party," he said. "No one individual is bigger than the party. I think he realized that."
Chris Russell, spokesman for the Burlington County Republican Committee, said the Democrats cannot distance themselves from the situation by putting all the blame on Perr and Meyer.
"The entire Burlington County Democratic Party, including their elected officials and candidates, are to blame for the growing pay-to-play scandal engulfing their party," Russell said. "They all pledged allegiance to Rick Perr and Jeff Meyer, were recruited to run for office by them, collectively took hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash from them, and stood arm in arm with Perr as recently as last week.
"Watching them step all over each other now and scramble for political survival by jumping from the sinking ship reveals a party in total and utter disarray, and politicians who stand for nothing but themselves."
Republicans first made an issue of the PAC after 44 politicians, local officials and rabbis were arrested in a federal corruption and money laundering scheme last month.
New Frontier donated $19,100 to Cammarano and a joint account he shared with his Hoboken City Council running mates. Cammarano resigned as Hoboken's mayor amid allegations that he accepted $25,000 in bribes - through a middleman - from an FBI informant.
While Perr and Meyer have said they weren't involved in the PAC's operation, e-mails obtained by the Burlington County Times showed both had communicated with New Frontier treasurer Jack Senechal, advising him and making fundraising requests.
Also on Tuesday, the Burlington County Republican Committee filed a formal complaint with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission requesting that it conduct an investigation into New Frontier's campaign activities.
The complaint, filed by county GOP political director Brandon Umba, asks the commission to investigate whether Perr violated campaign finance regulations by running a PAC while serving as chairman of the county Democratic committee and whether New Frontier violated rules by not disclosing the names and addresses of all people in control of the PAC.
Umba's complaint also asks the commission to investigate whether New Frontier's chairman, Dean Buono, violated regulations by "allowing his treasurer to take orders from Perr and Meyer."
The complaint cites Burlington County Times stories reporting that Perr and Meyer advised and communicated with the New Frontier treasurer on fundraising, campaign contributions and committee finances.
Buono, who has been registered as chairman of the New Frontier PAC since 2006, has said that he wasn't actively involved in fundraising or in deciding to whom the PAC donated and that his name was merely on the paperwork.
Leonard Gicas, director of reviews and investigations for the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, said his agency is "aware of the allegations" against New Frontier and the Democrats.
However, Gicas said, commission rules forbid him from commenting on any specific investigation or review.
In general, he said the commission would review any request and decide within 90 days whether it warranted further investigation.
Until recently, Perr was seen as a rising Democratic star who led the party to win four county seats over two years and was poised to help the Democrats win control of the county Board of Freeholders for the first time in 30 years.
Perr was elected chairman in June 2006, replacing Gary Karr, who did not seek re-election.
He showed up on the political radar in March 2003, when he founded the Burlington County Taxpayers Association, a watchdog group that advocated that government should be run more like a business.
As the group's leader, Perr sought information from the Burlington County Bridge Commission on its relationship with a Trenton lobbying firm linked to no-bid contracts at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark in 2005.
Lobbyist Robert Stears was investigated and eventually admitted in court that his former government-relations firm, the Strategy Group, deliberately overbilled the bridge commission from 1997 to 2002. Federal investigators estimated losses of up to $1 million from Stears' fraudulent billing and subsequent tax evasion.
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.