A political mailer reaching homes in Atlantic County gives voters two choices for state Senate: a shiny, green apple and a rotten, brown one.
The campaign literature, sent on behalf of state Sen. Jim Whelan, a Democrat fighting for re-election, paints Whelan as the apple you’d want to give a school teacher and Vince Polistina, the Republican candidate in the 2nd legislative district race, as a decaying piece of fruit.
The literature, paid for and authorized by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, tells voters "Whelan won’t let some rotten politicians get in the way of reforming government."
Polistina, the mailer claims, is a "backroom dealer looking to profit at taxpayer expense."
"Polistina donated thousands of dollars to Atlantic County politicians. Then he raked in more than $6 million in no-bid government contracts paid for by South Jersey taxpayers. But that wasn’t enough for Vince," the mailer, which was sent to PolitiFact New Jersey on Oct. 1, says. "He’s also collecting nearly $70,000 in taxpayer-funded salaries -- plus a government pension and all the perks he can pocket."
All of the 120 seats in the state Legislature are up for grabs this November, but the state Senate race between Whelan and Polistina is one of the most hotly contested -- and each candidate has accused the other of siphoning funds from government coffers to boost their personal wealth. For this Truth-O-Meter item, PolitiFact New Jersey researched the Democrats’ claims that Polistina is banking nearly $70,000 in public salaries and collecting a government pension.
The first part of that claim is correct. The second half is not only wrong -- it’s hypocritical.
First, let’s note that Polistina owns an engineering firm. Polistina acknowledged the firm brought in more than $6 million from 2004 to 2010 through government contracts, but said that’s revenue with which he is paying employees and overhead expenses.
He also works part-time for two public entities. As a state assemblyman, Polistina is paid $49,000. He is also the authority engineer for the Egg Harbor Township Municipal Utilities Authority, a position that pays $20,000 annually.
So Democrats correctly stated that Polistina is collecting "nearly $70,000 in taxpayer-funded salaries."
But is Polistina also collecting a pension?
Polistina isn’t eligible to enroll in the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System, or PERS, as a state legislator because he was elected after July 1, 2007.
However, Polistina is enrolled in PERS through his position with the municipal utilities authority. But he is not collecting a pension, according to state treasury documents.
Those facts would leave us at a Half True.
But Whelan is doing what the Democrats wrongly accused Polistina of -- collecting a government pension on top of "taxpayer-funded salaries."
Whelan’s salary as a state senator is $49,000 and he made nearly $67,500 as an Atlantic City public school teacher, according to state records current as of Oct. 15, 2010. He draws a monthly pension payment through PERS of more than $2,600 for his previous work as a government official and is enrolled in state’s pension fund for teachers, according to state treasury documents and financial disclosure forms.
Whelan did not return requests for comment. Jason Springer, a spokesman for the state Democratic committee, said the mailer "accurately reflects the salary Mr. Polistina is collecting and the pension credits he is banking."
We asked Springer whether the committee acknowledges that the mailer implies Polistina is currently collecting a pension -- not banking pension credits -- and if they could explain why they were targeting Polistina for something Whelan is doing.
Springer said in an email that the committee "stands by our previous response" and then repeated claims in the mailer.
The state Democratic committee said Polistina collects "nearly $70,000 in taxpayer-funded salaries -- plus a government pension."
Polistina is paid $69,000 for two part-time, public positions. He is in the pension system, but not collecting a pension.
The Democratic committee made the accusation against a Republican, despite their candidate collecting a pension on top of two government salaries. That makes the claim outrageous. We rate it Mostly False.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
New Jersey Democratic State Committee, Jim Whelan for state Senate mailer, Oct. 1, 2011
Email interview with Chris Russell, campaign consultant for Vince Polistina, Oct. 1, 4 & 5, 2011
Email interview with Jason Springer, communications director for New Jersey Democratic State Committee, Oct. 5, 2011
Interview with Andrew Pratt, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Treasury, Oct. 5, 2011
Interview with Peter Miller, township administrator for Egg Harbor Township, Oct. 5, 2011
Interview with Elaine Super, authority clerk for Egg Harbor Township Municipal Utilities Authority, Oct. 6, 2011
Interview with Michelle Peterson, human resources secretary with Atlantic City Board of Education, Oct. 6, 2011
Interview with state Assemblyman Vincent Polistina, Oct. 6, 2011
New Jersey Department of Treasury, Payments on behalf of James J. Whelan as of June 30, 2011, accessed Oct. 5, 2011
New Jersey Department of Treasury, Current Calendar Year Pension Search (2011), accessed Oct. 5, 2011
New Jersey Department of Treasury, Public Employees Retirement System Active Members as of 4th Quarter 2010: O Through S, accessed Oct. 5, 2011
New Jersey Department of Treasury, Teachers Pension and Annuity Fund Active Members as of 4th Quarter 2010: W through Z, accessed Oct. 5, 2011
Press of Atlantic City, State Assemblyman Vince Polistina's engineering firm averages nearly $1 million in annual public contracts, June 22, 2011
New Jersey Legislature, Assemblyman Vincent J. Polistina, accessed Oct. 6, 2011
New Jersey Legislature, Senator Jim Whelan, accessed Oct. 6, 2011
New Jersey Legislature, Completed Financial Disclosure Forms, accessed Oct. 6, 2011
New Jersey State Treasurer, Polistina & Associates, LLC’s Certificate of Formation, accessed Oct. 6, 2011
Polistina for Senate, Who's the Real Jim Whelan?, accessed Oct. 7, 2011
DataUniverse, NJ Public School Teachers, accessed Oct. 7, 2011
Polistina for Senate, Atlantic City Board of Education documents, accessed Oct. 7, 2011
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