The Case for Pay-to-Play Reform

The Newark City Council, not an “aristocratic” group

During the first Atlanta City Council meeting of the New Year, Councilmember Lamar Willis and I debated the concept of not allowing people wishing to hold or bid on city contracts to contribute large sums of money to city campaigns. This is known as Pay-to-Play reform.

My point, and the position of Common Cause Georgia is a perception problem is created when big campaign contributors win big city contracts. Case in point, the winning bidders in the recent concession process at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The winning bidders in this process have contributed over $176,000 to Mayor Reed’s campaigns. They have also given thousands of dollars to the campaigns of members of the City Council. So, am I surprised that the Mayor and most Councilmembers oppose the concept? No, but I am hopeful that the interests of the citizens of the City of Atlanta will prevail over the self-interests of our politicians.

Councilmember Willis argued that pay-to-play reform would create “an aristocratic political process” and that such reform “reserves the right to serve for the aristocracy of America”. Mayor Reed has said “without campaign contributions, candidates who are not wealthy would never be able to spend the time required to meet voters, communicate their ideas or develop their platforms”. They would have to focus solely on raising money, which I believe would put them at a fundamental disadvantage and severely limit the pool of qualified candidates for office at the expense of voters”.

So given these statements, I set out to find an example of an aristocratic mayor and city council full of rich people in a city where pay-to-play reform has been enacted. I am sure it is no surprise that I found no such city of wealthy leaders. But here’s what I found in Newark, New Jersey:

Mayor Cory Booker signed an executive order mandating pay-to-play reform in 2007, and just last year, the Newark Municipal Council expanded the reform. Admittedly, Newark is not as large a city as Atlanta, so elections do not cost as much. However, it is no small town and has certainly suffered from a bad reputation caused by pay-to-play. The demographics of Newark are somewhat similar to Atlanta:


The Newark Council is not as diverse as Atlanta’s, but I can find no proof that aristocratic nobles have taken over their Council. Serving on their Council is a high school principal, an administrator of the electric and gas company, a school system transportation supervisor, a brail teacher and community activist, a director of operations for a non-profit, a former Council aide, a former county director/administrator and two attorneys.

With the implementation of pay-to-play reform encompassing the entire previous term of the Newark Municipal Council and Mayor, the election of 2010 did not seem to have an onslaught of rich candidates, and the election results certainly produced a group that can hardly be accused of being aristocratic.

The argument that pay-to-play reform would create “an aristocratic political process” is not one that can be proven, and is the only argument that has been made against the reform so far. Meanwhile, the City of Newark is expanding their reform efforts and voters in the City of Los Angeles approved a pay-to-play measure on the ballot with over 75% of the vote.

Hopefully Atlanta’s Mayor and City Council will take steps to end our bad perception and pay-to-play reputation.


Newark City Council Profiles

Donald Payne, Jr. – Council President, Councilman at Large, African American Male, worked his way up the Essex County Educational Services Commission as a school bus monitor, eventually becoming supervisor of student transportation.

Augusto Amador – East Ward Councilman, Portguese-American Male, Performance Administrator at the Public Service Electric & Gas Company, appointed deputy mayor in 1997.

Ras J. Baraka – South Ward Councilman, African American Male, Principal of Central High School in Newark

Mildred C. Crump – Council Member At-Large, African American Female, Former President and Member, Board of Trustees, Integrity House, Inc.

Carlos M. Gonzalez – Councilman At-Large, Puerto Rican Male, was an auditor with two international accounting firms in the 70s, opened a law firm in 1996.

Luis A. Quintana – Councilman At-Large, Hispanic Male, Former aide to the South-Ward Councilman Sharpe James

Anibal Ramos, Jr. – North Ward Councilman, Hispanic Male, was named acting director of the Department of Citizen Services and the Department of Economic Development, Training, and Employment in 2003.

Ronald C. Rice – West Ward Councilman – African American Male, Attorney.

Darrin S. Sharif – Central Ward Councilman, African American Male, Director of Operations for the Urban League of Essex County


About William Perry

Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia
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