Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Rating claims on pay-to-play and income tax rates, tallying political ad rulings

A snapshot of the mailer paid for by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
A snapshot of the mailer paid for by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

Pay-to-play, taxes, jobs -- they’re among New Jersey’s most heated political topics.

PolitiFact New Jersey’s Truth-O-Meter took all of them on this weekend, handing out rulings of Half True and False to claims by former Gov. James E. McGreevey and the New Jersey chapter of Americans For Prosperity, respectively.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of those rulings, along with a scorecard on fact-checks of election season political mailers circulating around the state.

McGreevey claim

McGreevey claimed that he ended pay-to-play for state and county contracts just before leaving office. Pay-to-play is the controversial practice of making political donations in exchange for government contracts.

We found that McGreevey’s memory is a bit fuzzy. The former governor issued an executive order restricting pay-to-play for certain state contracts, but not county contracts. For state contracts, donors could still make donations of up to $300. Despite that, experts told PolitiFact New Jersey that McGreevey’s order is among the toughest pay-to-play laws in the United States.

Sweeney claim

To hear the New Jersey chapter of Americans For Prosperity tell it, Senate President Stephen Sweeney is at fault for New Jersey’s income tax rate being the highest in the nation, resulting in jobs leaving the Garden State.

But the conservative group got the facts wrong in their series of radio and television spots targeting incumbent legislators -- including Sweeney, a Democrat -- battling for re-election on Nov. 8, according to the Truth-O-Meter.

The top income tax rate in New Jersey increased twice during Sweeney’s time in the Legislature, in 2004 and 2009, but never gave the state the highest ranking nationally for the rate. Sweeney’s vote was just one of many supporting the increases; he didn’t become Senate president until 2010. Experts also told us that taxes might be one factor affecting job loss, but it’s not the only factor.

On the campaign trail

Just as the ad against Sweeney rated a False on the Truth-O-Meter, other political ads circulating around New Jersey have gone up against the Truth-O-Meter. With Election Day a week away, let’s review those ads, all of which rated Mostly False:

-- The New Jersey Democratic State Committee sent a mailer to Sayreville residents, claiming that Mayor Kennedy O’Brien, a Republican, was having secret meetings with big developers. The ad also claimed that more than 22,000 building permits have been issued during O’Brien’s 12-year tenure -- implying that there’s a lot of construction going on in the borough. The Truth-O-Meter found no evidence of secret meetings, and confirmed that only 1,240 of those 22,081 permits were for new home construction.

-- Republican State Senate candidate John Driscoll Jr. put out a TV ad blaming Democratic incumbent Robert Gordon for a property tax exemption for The Prudential Center in Newark. We found that Gordon did vote in 2008 to exempt the Newark Housing Authority, which owns the arena, from paying property taxes there, but the exemption had no direct effect on voters in Bergen and Passaic counties -- the ad’s target audience.

-- A mailer sent to homes in Atlantic County by the Democratic state committee on behalf of incumbent state Sen. Jim Whelan accuses his Republican challenger, Vince Polistina, of collecting "nearly $70,000 in taxpayer-funded salaries -- plus a government pension."

The Truth-O-Meter found a bit of pot-calling-the-kettle-black going on because Whelan not only collects a state pension, he also collects two government salaries -- as a legislator and as a public school teacher. Polistina is paid $69,000 for two part-time, public positions. He is in the pension system, but not collecting a pension.

Check out the full stories on the McGreevey, Sweeney and election claims and then join the conversations about these rulings and others at NJ.com