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Lizette Delgado-Polanco. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Democrats step up payments to firm that hired Delgado-Polanco

State party says increased consulting fees around time embattled ex-SDA official was a coincidence

By David Wildstein and Nikita Biryukov, November 25 2019 2:54 pm

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The New Jersey Democratic State Committee increased their payments to a political consulting firm that hired Lizette Delgado-Polanco after she resigned as vice chair of the state party.

Delgado-Polanco joined The Cratos Group as a senior vice president in April, the same week she stepped down from her $225,000-per-year job as CEO of the Schools Development Authority and from her party post.

Since then, the state committee has paid the firm $100,000 – a significant increase in the monthly fee that went directly to the firm’s owner, Adam Alonso, a top political advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy.

Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for the Democrats, said the two events weren’t related.

“The increase in the payments to Cratos group have nothing to do with Lizette Delgado Polanco at all,” he said. “She’s not servicing that account for the firm. I don’t speak for the firm, so I don’t know what she’s doing there, but it’s not NJDSC related.”

In the first four months of the year, the state committee made four $10,000 payments directly to Alonso, who serves as an outside adviser to the state committee.

After a controversy over Delgado’s hiring practices forced her to give up the Murphy administration post, payments to Cratos skyrocketed and the party began making payments to the firm instead of Alonso directly.

In May, the Cratos Group received two $17,500 payments, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

It got another $17,500 in June and August, and the payments dropped after that.

The state committee gave the firm $15,000 in September and October.

No payments were made to the firm in July.

Swibinski said the increased consulting fees had to do with staffing changes at the Democratic State Committee and with the run-up to the party’s annual state conference.

“The increase in the amount had to do primarily with two things. It was the transition of the executive directors from when (executive director) Liz Gilbert left, and Kevin Olasanoye came on. The Cratos Group took on additional responsibilities during that transition period,” he said. “It also had to do with the planning and execution of the state party conference, which also necessitated additional responsibilities from the firm.”

Swibinski said he expects payments to Cratos to drop further when the committee files its November monthly report.

Alonso told the New Jersey Globe that he was proud of the success at the Democratic State Committee.

“I have been an active part of its success. We have invested a record amount into local and county races, institutional capacity building and voter contact efforts,” Alonso said.  “From historic election wins to our annual conference headlined this year by Speaker Pelosi, our party is as strong as it has ever been and stands ready for 2020 and 2021.”

Even absent any continued involvement with the state party on Delgado-Polanco’s part, the payments to Cratos could renew criticism the state party and Gov. Phil Murphy faced during the SDA hiring storm.

Delgado-Polanco has largely stayed away from state party events, skipping the Atlantic City conference.

Democratic State Chairman John Currie faces a challenge from Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones.

A New Jersey Globe tally has Jones leading the incumbent 55 to 43.

Regardless of how that race turns out, Swibinski isn’t worried about the payments to Cratos causing an appearance of impropriety.

“No, because it has nothing to do with it. It’s purely coincidental. Everybody knows we had a change in executive director with Liz Gilbert leaving,” he said. “She really left tremendous shoes to fill. Especially in the time before Kevin was even hired. There was a lot to be done at that time, and somebody had to fill that void.”

Since Murphy took office, the state party has invested in historic wins at the local level, including control of the Somerset County Board of Freeholders, and flipped four congressional seats in 2018.

The Democratic State Committee has raised over $14 million since Murphy became a gubernatorial candidate in 2017, and has added over 2 million cell phone numbers to their voter database.

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