Large New Jersey law firm cuts political donations to avoid gambling payment obligations

The twenty dollar bills are counted. | AP Photo / Elise Amendola



Powerful New Jersey law firm sharply curtailed political contributions in an attempt to circumvent legal requirement to disclose public contracts.

After years of direct political contributions from its partners to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, reportable donations from DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Cole & Giblin in 2020 would barely cover the rent of an apartment with cold water.

The only reportable contribution from the company in 2020 was $ 1,000 from DeCotiis partner Bart Mongelli to Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson) in October. If Mongelli hadn’t sent that check, the company wouldn’t have had to itemize each of its contracts with New Jersey agencies, city governments, public universities, and authorities in a lengthy annual pay-to-play statement. That business volume has been worth between $ 10 million and $ 17 million in each of the past 13 years, according to its documents.

Private companies that hold public contracts must file an annual payment to play with ELEC report detailing each contract and any contribution over $ 300.

According to a statement filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), the company made no contribution to report in 2020. However, after POLITICO requested information on Mongelli’s contribution to Sacco, the Paramus company said it would change its case.

“We are in the process of doing it,” her partner William Harla said in an interview on Thursday. “We’re going to fix it because we have to and obviously we’re going to do the right thing. It was a mistake.”

The forgetfulness itself is relatively minor. ELEC’s records are constantly changed and, even if DeCotiis had been the subject of a complaint, the worst the company would have faced would have been a token fine. Equally important is that DeCotiis – a New Jersey political powerhouse with close ties to state and local authorities – is stepping back from the type of direct giving that allows public visibility of its reach.

Annual filings do not include some of the high contributions the company has made to super PACs or independent spending groups. For example, the company donated $ 200,000 to New Direction New Jersey, an organization started by former members of Governor Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign to support the Democrat’s political agenda. The company also donated to Coalition for Progress, a super PAC that was set up to help run for Jersey City Governor Steve Fulop before he gave up and supported Murphy.

ELEC records also show that company founder Robert DeCotiis contributed $ 1,000 last year to the campaign of Leonard Luciano, a Democrat who sits on the Essex County Board of Commissioners. The company provided a letter that Harla said was sent to Luciano’s campaign with a check from the company’s partners indicating that the $ 1,000 was in fact 19 separate contributions of $ 52.63 each of the group members.

The company has asked Luciano’s campaign to change their record, Harla said. Luciano did not respond to a request for comment.

Political contributions from public contractors fell off a cliff in New Jersey during the pandemic. With most fundraising events canceled, engineering firms, law firms, and lobby stores typically filling the campaign coffers reduce their donations about 20 percent.

Harla said the reduction in political fundraising by her company also stemmed from a desire to avoid the regulatory minefield that comes with direct contributions.

“The requirements of ELEC can be technical and take a long time,” he said. “This reflects a general reduction in contributions paid by the company.”

This has not always been the case for DeCotiis. The company said it donated more than $ 67,000 in 2019, the same year it said it had some $ 12 million in state, county or local agency contracts. In 2007, the company supported dozens of New Jersey political campaigns – both Democratic and Republican – for more than a quarter of a million dollars.

For DeCotiis, a company that has long had close ties to the state’s political leaders, including many of its most-elected Democrats, those contracts can range from a $ 1.2 million contract to serve as legal counsel to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to a check for $ 78 from town. from the Newton Housing Authority. Between 2015 and 2019, the law firm said it made more than $ 48 million in public entities.

Moving forward, reducing direct political activity is “just administratively practical and reflects a general trend, not only in our tendency but across the board, to reduce our level of political contributions,” Harla said. .