N.J. high court upholds pay-to-play

The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld an earlier Appellate Division ruling on a legal challenge to the state’s pay-to-play law on Thursday.

In a 7-0 ruling the high court affirmed that eliminating the appearance of corruption in the awarding of state contracts outweighs free speech rights in making political contributions.

Earle Asphalt Company, which was disqualified from a state contract after making political donations to Monmouth County Republicans, challenged a 2005 amendment to the state Campaign Contributions and Expenditure Reporting Act that established pay-to-play restrictions.

The amendment prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts worth more than $17,500 to businesses that have contributed more than $300 during the preceding 18 months to a gubernatorial candidate or any state or county political committee.

Walter Earle II, president of Earle Ashpalt, made a $1500 contribution to the Monmouth Republicans in June 2007, after being solicited by former State Senate President John Bennett. Earle Asphalt then bid on a contract to repair 10 miles of Interstate 195.

Upon learning of a potential pay-to-play conflict Mr. Earle requested a refund, but the state determined the refund was received after the expiration of a 30-day refund period and denied the contract.

The Supreme Court decision this week upheld an Appellate Division opinion by Judge Stephen Skillman.

Judge Skillman reasoned that “the state’s interest in insulating the…award of state contracts from…contributions that pose the risk of improper influence…is a sufficiently important interest…”

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