Pay to Play Lives On In Mercer County Government

Former Freeholder Candidate Ira Marks Describes Misleading Aspects of County Ordinance In Letter Newspapers Would Not Publish — Fall 2015



Mercer County Government, under Brian Hughes as County Executive, is misleading the public in presenting the effectiveness of its Pay to Play ordinances ( adopted over 10 years ago in FEB 2005). 

 The County website ( provides the following claims from Hughes.

 “ we introduced two ordinances…unanimously approved by the Board of Freeholders-that take crucial steps towards demonstrating the highest ideals of public service.”


“ under these ordinances, entities seeking professional services or redevelopment contracts with Mercer County are limited to $ 400 donation to any candidate for Mercer County office…… within one calendar year immediately preceding the date of the contract or agreement. These business entities will be required to submit a sworn statement made under penalty of perjury that they have not violated this Act. Violations….will result in the business entity being declared ineligible for future Mercer County contracts for a period of four years from the time of the violation.” 

A review of the latest ELEC campaign report issued by Brian Hughes for his campaign show that for the 18 month period ending June 22, 2015, Hughes political campaign has taken in $ 89,866, with many contributors greatly exceeding this $ 400 limit. The total aggregate amount of campaign contributions received by Hughes exceeds an astonishing $ 221,000.

How is it possible for Brian Hughes to secure this amount of political funding, yet comply with the restricted amount outlined in the Mercer County web-site?

Many contributors – even those who meet the definition of providing professional services- are sending in as much as $ 2500 per year, instead of the $ 400 outlined in the web-site. 

This is because Ordinance 2004-14 section 1 (D) allows a $ 400 limit per individual BUT any group of individuals meeting the definition of business entity  can contribute up to $ 2500 per year to Hughes political campaign.  

 This wording is in direct opposition to the wording by Hughes on the Mercer County web-site (see above).  The end result is that the list of political contributors to Brian Hughes reads like a “Who’s who of Mercer County Lawyers.” 

In other words, if you want to see how many law firms are hired by Mercer County or are seeking to be hired by Mercer County, one only has to look at Hughes political campaign reports.

 (Ordinance 2004-13-section 1 (D) covers redevelopment contracts with the same requirements as Ordinance 2004-14).

 Hughes and his public relations staff decided to use the $ 400 misleading figure (above) rather than the $ 2500 true annual limit because -who would believe that there is a strong, valid, pay to play ordinance in place in Mercer County if entities are allowed to contribute up to $ 2500 annually? 

 They would be right in this assessment.

There is no restriction on the amount of monies that Mercer County department heads and other employees are contributing to Brian Hughes political campaign.  Many are giving in excess of $ 1,000. 

This type of contribution is excluded from the entire pay to play ordinance, although it may be construed by an independent observer that the money contributed by the Mercer County employee represents a basis for the employee keeping his/her job. 

There is no restriction on the amount of monies that vendors, potential vendors or other interested parties may contribute to Brian Hughes political campaign- other than professional service or redevelopment contractors, and many of these parties are taking advantage of this fact, in order to win a contract from Mercer County or a favor from their special interest constituency.

While Mercer County touts its weak Pay to Play ordinance as a model of the “highest ideals of public service” the real task ahead is to rip up this ordinance in its entirety and approve a brand new ordinance that really meets the highest ideals of public service. 

 A good example would be the West Windsor Pay to Play ordinance, which completely prohibits political contributions from any vendor or interested party to any elected official in West Windsor, period.


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