Federal judge nixes state's pay-to-play ban

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    On July 6 the West Milford Town Council opted to table its pay-to-play ordinance indefinitely. State law, some of the councilmen said, made the law redundant. But the state's effort to block political donors from receiving lucrative government contracts was dealt a blow Monday when a federal judge found that New Jersey's code does not conform to federal law. An oral opinion issued Monday in U.S. District Court in Trenton sided with the Federal Highway Administration, which argued that the state's ban on pay-to-play — the practice of awarding contracts to political contributors — violates the competitive bidding process for federally funded road projects. ``I am very disappointed by this decision,'' acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said in a statement issued late Monday afternoon. ``It reinforces the need to amend the federal transportation funding bill with language upholding New Jersey's pay-to-play ban.'' Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, which handled the case for the state, said the office is reviewing the decision and hasn't decided whether to appeal. Former Gov. James E. McGreevey issued an executive order last year banning donors who give more than $300 to county and state political parties and to gubernatorial candidates from getting any state contract worth more than $17,500. Codey, who supported the order and vowed to keep it in effect during his time in office, was forced to amend the law to exempt federal contracts after the Highway Administration withheld $260 million for state transportation projects. The state then sued, hoping a federal judge would allow it to enforce the ban. Instead, the case was dismissed. New Jersey's two U.S. senators introduced an amendment earlier this year giving states the ability to enact pay-to-play laws without endangering their federal highway money. The Senate tabled the amendment in May, after the House had passed a similar measure.