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Still Waiting for Paul Perez

It seems like only a short while ago, but it’s been six weeks since this space featured two pieces on the 2014 NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) filed reports from the once and current Trenton mayoral candidate Paul Perez. I discussed several apparent reporting problems in those pieces, including several questionable cash expenses, and the total lack of any cash contributions reported for his first campaign.

When I posted those pieces in February, I was assured – personally by the candidate in phone conversation, and also by his lawyer - that the faulty ELEC reports would be fixed. Mr. Perez told me he “had people fixing them,” and attorney Rudolph Palombi wrote “Mr. Perez and his staff are addressing your concerns forthwith.”

Well, as of Tuesday morning – 41 days since he promised to fix the problems and 42 days until the election, a perfect midpoint – the ELEC shows no revised 2014 reporting from Mr. Perez and his campaign. Time is getting late to fix the 2014 problems. Until he does, Mr. Perez risks the same type of complication for his campaign that Eric Jackson had during his successful campaign four years ago.

Jackson’s ELEC problems in 2014 didn’t prevent his election then, but he never did resolve them – to this day – and his campaign finance problems proved an all too accurate predictor of the kind of slapdash and sloppy Administration he ended up running.

Mr. Perez blamed his 2014 reporting on his staff during that campaign. He also ascribed his reporting problems from that race to the fact he’d run “a novice campaign.” This explanation is a little hard to swallow, given that Mr. Perez presents himself as a seasoned and experienced manager. As he puts it on his campaign website, “Paul is an experienced leader, administrator and skilled problem-solver, and has extensive experience in the areas of crisis management, law enforcement, emergency management, intelligence, and government administration and international relations.”

It’s a little difficult to square that description with his messy 2014 campaign reporting. ELEC reporting isn’t really that difficult to master. Compared to everyday governmental accounting and bookkeeping, with its myriad grants, funding cycles and multiple deliverable and reporting requirements, it’s far less complicated and onerous. Six weeks after the fact, we really should have seen revised reporting for 2014 on the ELEC website. But we haven’t. I wonder why.

His 2014 ELEC reports are drawing attention from others as well. I won’t link to them because they appear under assumed names – and therefore should be considered suspect as the product of his political opponents – but there are Facebook posts and YouTube videos popping up online that raise questions about the lack of revenue and expense detail in the ELEC reporting associated with several of Perez’ 2014 fundraising events, such as the May 3, 2014 event I discussed in my last piece. This kind of attention is only likely to increase over the next several weeks as we get closer to Election Day on May 8.

Some similar questions are coming up from the ELEC reporting to date for the current 2018 Perez campaign. For instance, on November 15 of last year, Mr. Perez announced his candidacy at an event – featured on his website and in press accounts – that took place at the St. Mary’s Gymnasium.  The announcement event was well attended by supporters. It’s pretty typical that on occasions like this supporters will bring contributions for the candidate, wither in cash or check. Yet, on his ELEC report for the last quarter of 2017, which can be found here – Mr. Perez lists only one contribution with the date of November 15, for $100. The next three reported contributions are dated November 19, November 20, and November 26.

Now I should say that I have no definite knowledge of any contributions that have not been listed here. It’s certainly conceivable that at this event there was no revenue, but it is curious not to see any receipts.

It’s also curious to see no expenses recorded for this event. From photographs posted on the Trenton Times site one can see that this wasn’t a very extravagant event. There was at least some staging: tables and chairs for the audience, and podium with a Public Address system for the candidate. There was also the room itself.

But there are no expenses listed for room and equipment rental. Even if the hall was donated by the church, there is an in-kind value to all of those things that is required to be recorded on ELEC reports. But there is nothing on the report filed with ELEC on January 11.

In theory, I can kinda sorta accept that there may have been no contributions received by Perez on the occasion of his campaign kickoff. But no expenses? That just doesn’t sound right.

One thing I still find problematic with the 2014 reports is the total lack of cash contributions reported by the campaign, as well as several large, unexplained cash disbursements. This time around, there are several reported cash contributions, which seems right for a campaign of this type. The presence of cash contributions in the 2018 reporting just makes their absence from the 2014 all the more glaring.

There are also some reported cash expenses that are not fully detailed, such as a 12/30/17 cash payment of $500 for an “Event Bond” to one Roy Richardson, without any further required detail on the vendor or the expense, as you can see here.

roy richardson

In 2014, Eric Jackson blamed his three-year failure to close out his 2010 ELEC reporting on losing.  “My mind was other places losing. You’re despondent,” he told the Trentonian.  As I wrote above, despite his ELEC problems being well known, Jackson was elected by Trenton’s voters in 2014. We’ve seen what happened in the four years after that.

This time, are we seeing something similar with Paul Perez? Perhaps.

The 2014 campaign reports from Paul Perez raise lots of questions, as reported last month. That’s troubling.

The failure to date of the campaign to fix those problems, despite being assured by the candidate and his lawyer that they would be addressed six weeks ago, is more troubling.

That the current reporting for the 2018 has problems is also unsettling. It may be too soon to make the call that 2018’s reports are as problematic as the ones from four years ago still are. However, with his previous campaign finance reports still a lingering, unresolved problem, one can’t help but view his current campaign statements with some continuing reservations.

What should be extremely troubling this spring to Trenton’s voters is Paul Perez’ explanation that his 2014 ELEC reporting problems were due to “a novice campaign.”

Because if Paul Perez is elected Mayor this spring, he will be – even with all his prior governmental experience – “a novice mayor.”

Are we ready for that?

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