PATERSON, NJ – At the end of last year, Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman said he would “definitely” file his delinquent campaign finance reports in January.
The calendar has turned to February and Akhtaruzzaman still has not submitted his reports from last November’s 2nd Ward race to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“I thought they were done,’’ the councilman said in an interview on Friday. “We got everything ready. I guess he’s (campaign treasurer Aziz Rahman) going to do it soon.’’
The initial report was supposed to be submitted to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) in October and the final one was due on November 26. The finance reports are supposed to provide the public information on how much money candidates raise and spend on their political campaigns as well list the names of people who contributed more than $300 to them. Advocates say the lists of contributors are an important tool for the public to assess the motivations behind decisions by elected officials.
In some instances, ELEC imposes fines on candidates who fail to file or are late in filing their campaign finance reports. In general, the state agency always provides candidates an informal grace period before imposing sanctions. Agency officials don’t like to say exactly how late is too late.
Akhtaruzzaman said he had reached out to ELEC regarding his delinquent forms. “I called up the state and they said you shouldn’t be late, but it’s okay, just file when you can,’’ said the councilman.
Akhtaruzzaman did file reports for the regular city council election last May. In fact, those reports showed he raised $32,910, more than anyone among the 21 candidates who ran in the seven council races in the spring.
The councilman said his fund-raising efforts for the November special election were much more modest. “I didn’t spend money,’’ he said. “It was very little. It was not like the first time. This election, a lot of people worked for me for free.’’
PatersonPress.com asked Akhtaruzzman why it was taking so long to fill out the forms if he had spent so little money. He did not provide an answer.
Akhtaruzzaman won the 2nd Ward seat in May, but a judge nullified his victory ruling that his voter registration at the time was invalid. During that trial, it came to light that Akhtaruzzaman had not properly filled out various pieces of government paperwork, including his voter registration, an application for emergency food stamps after Hurricane Irene, and his child’s 2011 school registration form with the Totowa Board of Education.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan, who presided over the trial, aimed some harsh criticism at Akhtaruzzaman, saying his testimony had been "evasive" and "replete with contradictions.'' The judge also said, "Some of the answers he provided were simply implausible.''
The city held a special election in November to fill the vacant 2nd Ward seat and Akhtaruzzaman won again, gaining his 36-vote margin of victory through 389 mail-in ballots, more than twice as many as anyone else in the field of five candidates.
All three of Akhtaruzzaman’s closest competitors in the special election have filed at least one of the requisite ELEC reports.
Last spring, all seven winning city council candidates had filed at least one of the required ELEC reports prior to the regular city election.