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Lumberton Democratic Township Committee candidate Terrance Benson.

Lumberton GOP file ELEC complaint over Benson’s PAC involvement

Democratic candidate says he’ll will step down immediately

By Nikita Biryukov, October 12 2020 1:09 pm

Lumberton Republicans are going after Democratic Township Committee candidate Terrance Benson over his ties to Emerging Leaders NJ, a political action committee.

Lumberton GOP Chair Lew Jackson on Sunday announced he had filed a complaint with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) charging Benson could not run for office and act as the group’s treasurer at the same time.

“Terrance Benson can be a candidate for Lumberton Township Committee or he can funnel Democrat dark money from his handlers in Mount Holly and Trenton into Lumberton,” Jackson said. “He can’t do both.”

The Democrat initially said he intended to cut ties with the organization if he won his race but changed course after learning ELEC’s regulations barred candidates from managing a PAC while seeking office.

“It was an oversight on my part by not stepping down as treasure of the PAC,” he said. “I will file the necessary paperwork to do so immediately. I’m proud of the initiatives the pro-democratic PAC participated in during my short time as treasurer.”

ELEC’s unofficial regulations say “no candidate shall establish, authorize the establishment of, maintain, or participate directly or indirectly in the management or control of any political committee or any continuing political committee.”

“Our law forbids candidates from running continuing political committees,” ELEC Deputy Director Joe Donohue said, speaking generally and adding violations of that rule could result in a fine of up to $8,600.

Benson has served as treasurer for Emerging Leaders NJ since Dec. 24, 2018.

The PAC hasn’t been exceptionally active during that time. Through June 30 this year, the group spent $7,966.08, with much of that money going to event planning expenses, though it spent more than $2,000 on printing in May.

Last year, Emerging Leaders paid thousands to Local Strategies, LLC., a political consulting firm run by Jason Carty, who is married to Benson’s running mate, Lumberton Democratic Municipal Chairwoman Gina LaPlaca.

The payments to Local Strategies largely predate the local race in Lumberton. Emerging Leaders paid the group a $1,500 retainer on Jan. 4, 2019, and paid another $3,200 for consulting, mailers and “defeating Republicans” on Nov. 12, 2019, shortly after the conclusion of the year’s legislative races.

LaPlaca mounted an unsuccessful bid for Assembly in the eighth legislative district last year.

Benson could not immediately say what races those expenditures went toward.

“This is Trenton and Camden politics coming to Lumberton and it needs to end,” Jackson said. “The proper authorities will get to make a decision on the various charges facing Lumberton Democrats, but we are going to make sure the voters are informed so they have their say on November 3rd.”

The Democrat launched his own attacks at Lumberton’s Republicans over contributions they received from developer Robert Healey Sr. and individuals and firms with ties to him.

“I find it hypocritical of the Lumberton Republicans to criticize Democrats when they themselves have fooled residents for years with their shady political contributions and repeated ELEC violations. In the last year alone Lumberton Republicans took $22,000 from a developer then bought land from him two months later.”

Healey, his son Robert Healey Jr. and firms tied to the two gave at least $25,000 to Republicans in Lumberton since 2017. Benson pointed to another $19,600 in donations to the Lumberton GOP and their candidates from Centron Financial Services and Maritime Financial.

Maritime Financial shares an address with Viking Yachts, which is owned by the Healey family. The New Jersey Globe was unable to establish a firm link between Centron and the Healeys. The Healeys appeared with Walter Devlin, then the organization’s vice president, in a 1985 issue of a motorboating magazine.

LaPlaca and Benson will face Republican Committeeman James Dwyer and Mark Miller in November. Committeeman Sean Earlen, the Burlington County Republican chairman, is not seeking re-election.

In 2016, Lumberton Republicans faced fire over an ELEC complaint alleging illegal candidate-to-candidate transfers between them and other Republicans in the township, though that investigation did not result in any penalties.

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