Cranbury Press

Dems To Keep Lynch Cash

Nix GOP calls to donate money

The Cranbury Press — Friday, October 13, 2006

By: Stephanie Brown, Staff Writer

MONROE — The Monroe Municipal Democrat Committee plans to keep money donated from a political action committee founded by former state Sen. John A. Lynch, who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and tax evasion last month.

The Democrats were responding to questions raised after several Democratic legislators either returned money contributed by Mr. Lynch's PAC, New Directions Through Responsible Leadership, or donated the money to charity.

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, whose district includes Monroe and Jamesburg, was the first to address the money, donating the $2,000 she received over a two-year period to N.J. Citizen Action to aid in its campaign-finance reform efforts. She said Tuesday that it was not improper to accept the money at the time, but that it was a good opportunity to make a statement – "to make things better, to be a symbol and to be a role model."

Monroe Republicans said that the money is tainted and that the Monroe Democrats should not keep contributions from New Directions.

The Monroe Municipal Democratic Committee received $9,000 from New Directions between 2002 and 2004. Mayor Richard Pucci, who is the chairman of the municipal committee, said there is nothing wrong with the money.

The mayor said he believes New Directions was founded to build up the Democratic Party and recruit the next generation of elected officials and that donations to the PAC and then to Monroe were made in "good faith."

Mr. Lynch, 67, pleaded guilty Sept. 15 in federal court to taking money from a sand company in South Brunswick when he was a state senator in exchange for helping the company obtain state environmental permits. Mr. Lynch, who is a former New Brunswick mayor, admitted to accepting more than $22,000 from the sand company in 1998 and 1999. He also pleaded guilty to an unrelated tax evasion charge for failing to declare $150,000 in income on a land sale in 1999.

The mayor was a paid consultant of New Directions – his home-based firm Professional Management Consultants was paid $168,000 since 2002 – but resigned his position May 12 after several New Jersey newspapers reported that New Directions had ties to developer Jack Morris.

Mr. Morris is the developer of the Applegarth Professional Center on Applegarth Road, and is also working with Steve Kalafer, owner of the Somerset Patriots, on a proposal to build a mixed-use development on Route 33 that would include an independent-league baseball team.

Mr. Morris has contributed to candidates and committees from both parties around state, and has given $70,000 to New Directions since 2000.

Ms. Greenstein said Tuesday that she did not see the New Directions money as tainted and that she was not asking other Democrats to follow her lead. However, she thought donating the money Citizen Action and asking that it be designated specifically for its clean-elections campaign was appropriate.

"I thought it seemed to be the perfect place to donate the money," she said Tuesday. "It is something I'm active in and it is one of the places that are trying to make government better. If one wanted to make a symbolic statement, this was the perfect place."

Monroe Republican Club President Tom Nothstein applauded Ms. Greenstein for "doing the right thing" and said Monroe Democrats should do the same. He said the money is "damaged goods" and "should absolutely be returned."

Sidna Mitchell, chairwoman of the Monroe Municipal Republican Committee, said that even if there was no relationship between New Directions and Mr. Lynch's federal investigation, there is still the public's negative perception of Sen. Lynch to consider.

"Anytime if there appears to be or if there is a perception of conflict of interest than I would hope that the town returns any of those funds," she said Wednesday.

She said public perception is especially important in New Jersey considering its reputation for corruption.

"I would hope that our elected officials on whatever level would try to do what's right so that we no longer have such an awful reputation," she said.

Ms. Mitchell added that Democrats outnumber Republicans in Monroe and can raise significantly more money and she questions why the Democrats need so much money.

"Democrats don't need the money in this town. They have the numbers. They have the votes," Ms. Mitchell said.

Mayor Pucci disagreed. He said the PAC was not connected to Mr. Lynch's legal problems and he is concerned that public officials are being tainted by tangential associations with those charged or convicted of ethical abuses.

"Here's where you have to start drawing line, whoever serves on a board or committee who runs a company – if the person within that entity did something that was illegal, you can't just cast a net over everything that person has ever done," Mayor Pucci said.

The mayor said that, should it be determined that there is a problem with the money, it should not be given to charity but back to New Directions.

"Those donors gave it to the future of the Democratic Party. They did not give that money to be donated to a charity that they may not even agree to," Mayor Pucci said. "I don't see that thinking pattern at all."

Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Joseph C. Spicuzzo said in a Wednesday press release that Republican claims that the money is "tainted are completely without merit."

He said county Democrats will continue to seek the financial resources necessary to "help deliver the Democratic Party message."

"We will continue to do so honorably and in full compliance with the campaign finance laws and regulations," he said.

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