Tom Ballistreri and Manny Aponte, Republican candidates for at large seats on the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders, said today that, as Board members, they would push for increased fines for violating the county?s ban on pay to play and the practice of wheeling and require those who violate it to return the money.
?We believe the current fine of $500 is insufficient as a deterrent,? they said, ?and we propose that the fine be established at an amount equal to 20 percent of the illegal contributions received by a candidate.?
?Moreover, we propose amending the ordinance to require that any candidate who violates its provisions must return the contribution to its original donor,? Ballistreri and Aponte said. ?Currently, there is no reimbursement provision.?
?Our goal is to force candidates to think twice or even more before accepting outside campaign cash which exceeds the limit set in the ordinance,? they said. ?The existing penalties are too light to discourage a candidate from taking large sums of money illegally and, if caught, simply pay a $500 fine while keeping the funds.?
The two noted that a complaint has been filed charging Sheriff Jim McGettigan with taking in thousands of dollars in contributions in his County Executive campaign last year in violation of the anti-wheeling provisions of the ordinance.
?If our proposals had been law and if McGettigan is found to have violated the ordinance, he would be subject to a substantial fine and forced to reimburse thousands of dollars,? Ballistreri and Aponte said.
?The goal of cleansing our political campaign process of the disproportionate influence wielded by power brokers with large amounts of cash at their disposal can be attained with a strong deterrent policy,? they said. ?Substantial fines and reimbursement of ill gotten gains — such as we are recommending — must be a part of that policy.?
Ballistreri and Aponte said Atlantic County government has a strong tradition of honesty and integrity and ?keeping it free of self-serving meddling by outside political bosses is vital to maintaining public confidence in the system.?