The two contenders for the Republican gubernatorial nomination upped the Scoville scale of the race on Monday in an argument over Doug Steinhardt’s ties to a political action committee that Jack Ciattarelli alleges helped him circumvent state pay-to-pay laws.
Ciattarelli’s claim follows a Bergen Record report that Steinhardt was a donor to the independent Leadership PAC for Better Government, which in turn contributed campaigns in places where his law firm received public contracts.
The ties between Steinhardt and the PAC are tenuous – the political action committee is headed by Robert Larsen, the fleet manager of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission – a majority of the PAC donors are affiliated with Florio Perrucci Steinhardt Capelli Tipton & Taylor, the law firm where the former GOP State Chairman in a partner.
While Steinhardt told The Record that he supports Republican candidates “up and down the state,” the Ciattarelli campaign pointed to contributions made by the PAC seven years to Steve Fulop, then a candidate for mayor of Jersey City in a non -partisan election against an incumbent who was also a Democrat.
The Leadership PAC for Better Government contributed $1,500 to Fulop. At the time, allies of then-Gov. Chris Christie were supportive of Fulop’s successful bid to oust Jeramiah Healy.
“Doug Steinhardt’s claim that he and his allies set up this shady PAC with the sole purpose of helping Republicans just isn’t true,” said Eric Arpert, Ciattarelli’s campaign manager. “Swampy Steinhardt and his allies don’t care about red or blue, they care about green.”
The Ciattarelli campaign maintains that the PAC contributions helped Steinhardt’s law firm obtain legal work from Jersey City, although the bulk came from the Jersey City Board of Education. The mayor didn’t necessarily control the school board.
The Steinhardt campaign pushed back on Ciattarelli’s allegations, pointing to the former assemblyman’s own ties to a Trenton lobbying firm whose partners are playing a major role in the 2021 campaign.
“Jack Ciattarelli has been bought and paid for by his lobbyist kitchen cabinet that makes deals with the Trenton Democrats,” said Steinhardt campaign manager Theresa Winegar. “While they all stand around a cork board, connecting red yarn to polaroids, Doug Steinhardt has been taking the fight to Phil Murphy and holding him accountable for his failed policies.”
But Steinhardt also has ties to prominent Democrats – his law partners include former Gov. Jim Florio and Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli – and those relationships are part of Ciattarelli’s strategy to cast some doubt on the former GOP state chairman’s claim that he’s a political outsider.
“Steinhardt needs to apologize for lying to Republican voters, explain why he helped re-elect Steve Fulop, and come clean on how he’s gotten rich on the backs of New Jersey taxpayers,” Arpert stated.
Last week, Steinhardt slammed Ciattarelli for his ties to the lobbying firm.
“This state needs an outsider like Doug Steinhardt who will turn Trenton upside down, drain the filth and take back New Jersey,” Winegar said.