The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission has filed charges against four members of a ticket that successfully won a majority of seats on the Brick Township school board, as well as their campaign treasurer who is the husband of a sitting board member.
The charges – which are administrative, not criminal – were levied against all of the members of the so-called “Clean Slate” team that won seats on the board in 2015. Stephanie Wohlrab, the current board president, John Lamela, the former board president, as well as board members Victoria Pakala and George White were the subject of the complaint. Of the four, Wohlrab and Pakala remain on the board. Lamela and White did not seek re-election after their terms expired. Joseph Nezgoda, Pakala’s husband, also received a violation notice.
In the wake of the vicious 2015 school board campaign, which included robocalls, signs, and a slew of mailers, some members of the Brick community accused the Clean Slate ticket of failing to file mandatory campaign finance disclosure reports and questioned whether the reported expenditures of the campaign could possibly have financed all of the advertising and campaign infrastructure that was utilized. The team was closely tied to the Democratic party, though school board elections are technically nonpartisan.
If a group of candidates spends more than $12,300, they must file what is known as an R-1 form, which is a detailed accounting of the campaign’s donations and expenditures that lists all contributions in excess of $300. Mitch Seim, the campaign consultant for the Clean Slate ticket, told Shorebeat at the time that the foursome did not exceed $12,300. After the campaign was over, a resident submitted a complaint to the state calling for an investigation and confidentially shared it with Shorebeat. Now, nearly four years later, the state has formally filed campaign finance violation charges and scheduled a hearing.
According to the state’s complaints, obtained by Shorebeat, the five respondents will have an opportunity to present a defense at a hearing. Specifically, the complaints charge each person with violating campaign finance regulations by filing Form D-2 – a certification that funds will be commingled between a ticket of candidates – on November 25, 2015, 74 days past the deadline. The second count of the complaint alleges the Clean Slate Team deposited four contributions in excess of $300, totaling $6,400, into the account. Those donations were not reported until 51 days after the deadline.
The complaint goes on to state in a third count that an additional five deposits of more than $300 were made by the ticket that were unreported. A fourth count focuses on Lamela, who made a $750 deposit into his own campaign account (formed before the ticket combined their finances) which was unreported. He is also accused of filing another report 68 days late. The same charges, detailed nearly word-for-word in a fifth, sixth and seventh count, were levied against Pakala, White and Wohlrab.
For all of the donations over $300, state law calls for the disclosure of the date the donation was made, its amount, the contributor’s name and address, the contributor’s employer and his or her occupation.
If found in contravention of state campaign finance regulations, the state could impose a fine of up to $7,600 for each violation.
Wohlrab, contacted by Shorebeat, said she was not available for comment due to personal issues. Board members offered no comment on the matter at last week’s Board of Education meeting, when the issue was brought up publicly by Al Cartine, campaign manager for the township’s Republican organization.
“It’s a scam, it’s a fraud, and it’s not something you can let our children learn through your behavior,” said Cartine. “We’re better than that, you’re better than that, and you need to correct this problem and come out in the open public – let people know, ‘Hey we made a mistake here and we’re trying to rectify this.’”
The four current and former board members have 20 days to request a hearing to adjudicate the case, or the commission may enter a default judgment and order fines. The complaint was filed June 26.