Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci leveraged his party post to pressure a candidate to drop her primary challenge to Tom Kean, Jr., while being paid $21,128 by the Kean for Congress campaign in 2019, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Palatucci strong-armed Rosemary Becchi and some of her supporters last year, according to emails he sent that were shared with the Globe.
Sources close to Becchi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, confirmed that Palatucci never revealed that his law firm, Gibbons P.C., had a $3,000-per-month retainer agreement with the Kean campaign.
Palatucci securing work for his law firm at the expense of the campaign is drawing some criticism.
“Bill shouldn’t charge Tom anything. After all, if it wasn’t for Tom’s father, Bill wouldn’t have had the opportunities he did,” said a former Republican governor. “Taking Tom’s money, since he’ll need every cent to defeat an incumbent, is especially egregious considering that Bill tried to remove Tom. He should want to make up for that, I think.”
Palatucci managed Gov. Tom Kean’s re-election campaign in 1985, but in 2013 backed Gov. Chris Christie’s unsuccessful coup to dethrone Kean, Jr. as minority leader of the New Jersey Senate.
The 62-year-old Palatucci announced on Friday that he would seek re-election to his RNC post when the state party meets next week.
He has no announced opposition for the post, allowing a Christie relic to remain in a senior party leadership position.
“While it doesn’t run afoul of any campaign laws, it does create the appearance that the political support of the party is for sale,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “What Tom Kean will say— and he’d be right— is that he is paying Bill Palatucci for his vast expertise, not trading on his position. But it says to other candidates that they ought to do the same thing, which is an unfair advantage of Bill’s party position.”
Light giver to GOP campaigns
Records show that Palatucci is taking considerably more out of Kean’s campaign than he’s putting in. His $1,500 personal contribution falls far short of the $5,600 maximum he can legally donate to Kean for the primary and general elections.
It’s unusual for a party leader like Palatucci to draw money from campaigns, rather than contribute to them.
His predecessors, David Norcross and Bernard M. Shanley, were major donors to the Republican Party.
Palatucci, who recently opened Gibbons’ Washington, D.C.’s government relations office, has made a relatively small number of contributions to Republican candidates.
So far this cycle, records show that he contributed $200 to Hirsh Singh’s campaign for U.S. Senate, $500 to Kate Gibbs’ bid for Congress in the 3rd district, and $250 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee’s federal account.
Becchi switched races last month and is now running in the next-door 11th district. Despite his party post, Palatucci was left out of the negotiations to clear the field for Becchi to take on Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair). Palatucci had been helping former Kinnelon councilman Larry Casha to secure the 11th district nomination.
He has not contributed to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
In 2019, Palatucci’s personal contributions to Republicans were virtually non-existent.
He gave $2,500 to Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick’s re-election campaign, $500 each to State Senate candidate Michael Testa, Jr., Assemblyman-turned-Senator Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton), and Bridgewater mayoral candidate Matthew Moensch.
Palatucci contributed nothing to the Republican State Committee in 2019. Indeed, he has not written a personal check to a local Republican organization in seven years.
In 2018, Palatucci contributed $10,650 of his own money to New Jersey candidates, including $4,000 to his own congressman, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township). Lance was outspent by Democrat Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), who won by 16,200 votes.
Palatucci’s biggest personal donation, $5,700, went to West Virginia, where former New Jerseyan Patrick Morrissey was running for the U.S. Senate.
He gave $5,400 to Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River), $500 each to Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) and Jay Webber, who was seeking an open 11th district House seat. He gave $250 to Richard Pezzullo, who was running in the 6th district.
Palatucci’s law firm PAC favors mostly Democrats
The legal work for Kean is being handled by Palatucci’s law partner, Steven H. Sholk.
Sholk “regularly counsels corporations on the formation and operation of political action committees and compliance with federal and state pay-to-play laws,” according to his law firm website.
Gibbons has its own PAC, which contributed heavily to Democrats last year, including $2,800 to Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), $2,000 to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), $500 to Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), and $1,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Last August, the Gibbons PAC contributed $2,500 to the re-election campaign of Rep. Jeff Van Drew. The contribution came four months before Van Drew switched parties and became a Republican.
In December, Gibbons PAC donated $2,500 to the re-election campaign of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Palatucci’s longtime protégé, former Gov. Chris Christie, held a fundraiser for McConnell in Mendham around the same time.
Palatucci has contributed $1,000 to the Gibbons PAC.
In 2018, the Gibbons PAC also heavily backed Democratic candidates in New Jersey, including $7,700 to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, $5,400 to Norcross, and $5,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
Gibbons also made contributions of $3,700 to Sherrill’s campaign against Webber and $2,500 each to Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York), and Pallone.
On the Republican side, Palatucci’s law firm PAC contributed just $1,000 to Lance and $300 to Smith.