Nancy Sungenis quandary gets ever more convoluted. Not only does Nancy serve as the vice chairperson of the Cumberland County Democratic Organization, but she is the County Superintendent of Elections (otherwise called Commissioner of Registration).
Commissioner of Registration
Mrs. Nancy L. Sungenis
555 Shiloh Pike
Bridgeton, NJ 08302
As a special state officer, she is subject to the State of New Jersey Code of Ethics. One would assume that it is difficult to violate New Jersey Ethics. New Jersey is lax on enforcement, and even more lax on what is ethically permissible. For instance, double-dipping and pay-to-play, while blatantly illegal in other states is condoned and even recommended in this state. Recent ethics reforms have done little to address the problems, serving only to legislate loopholes ensuring that violations persist.
However, there are a few strict laws in place.
Pursuant to section 23(a) (1) of the Conflicts Law, each State agency is required to promulgate a code of ethics to govern and guide the conduct of State employees and special State officers and employees in the agency. Each code must conform to the general standards set forth in section 23 of the Conflicts Law, but may be formulated with respect to the particular needs and problems of the agency to which the code is to apply and, when applicable, shall be a supplement to the uniform ethics code to be promulgated pursuant to section 23(a)(2) of the Conflicts Law.
We find it interesting that Lou Magazzu and Nancy Sungenis choose to overlook the Cumberland County ethics laws. Actually the county ethics laws are extremely vague, was this done on purpose? The New Jersey Code addresses Nancy’s illegal activity more directly.
In Case No. 435-77, the Commission determined that a Department of Health employee was permitted to serve as chairman or co-chairman of a public employees’ committee in support of a gubernatorial candidate. The State employee was cautioned that he must not use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for the candidate of his choice. Further, he must be careful not to permit his political activities to conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest.
Nancy Sungenis approved and signed a letter to the local media as well as to Registered Democratic voters endorsing an outright falsification of events, and supporting a specific candidate. This one-sided support for a political candidate is worrisome considering the position she holds. It causes some consternation among voters that she might not effectively and honestly fulfill her duties as an officer of the state charged with ensuring fair and honest elections.
Here are a few more interesting paragraphs concerning the interpretation of New Jersey Ethics laws in the New Jersey Uniform Ethics Code 2009.
In Case No. 34-85, two members of the Board of Dentistry were advised that N.J.S.A. 52:13D-24 expressly permits the solicitation and acceptance of campaign contributions for announced candidates for elective public office. The dentists were cautioned, however, about political activities which directly involve persons subject to licensure and review by the Board of Dentistry. The dentists sent letters, on personal stationery, to thousands of New Jersey licensed dentists, to solicit re-election campaign funds for a New Jersey Assemblyman.
In 1997, in Case No. 29-97, the Commission considered the effect of section 16(b) of the Conflicts Law on State officers and employees who serve as campaign treasurers. Section 16(b) prohibits State officers and employees from representing, appearing for or negotiating on behalf of, or agreeing to perform any of those activities for, a party other than the State in connection with any matter pending before any State agency. The Commission’s precedent has established that signing reports, making telephone calls, attending meetings and/or responding to inquiries by a State agency on behalf of a third party are acts of representation. Campaign reports must be signed by the campaign treasurer and submitted to the Election Law Enforcement Commission (“ELEC”), a State agency, and in the event of a complaint to ELEC, the treasurer would be required to appear in person or respond in writing to ELEC’s inquiry. Thus, a State officer or employee is prohibited from serving as a campaign treasurer because the treasurer’s duties include representing the campaign organization and/or the candidate before ELEC.
In Case No. 07-01, a County Superintendent of Elections employee was advised that his proposed participation in his friend’s campaign for municipal office was not appropriate under the application of section 23(e)(5), activity which might reasonably be expected to impair objectivity and independence of judgment, and section 23(e)(7), appearance of impropriety. In his official capacity, the employee supervised a staff of 53 employees, represented the Superintendent of Elections at necessary functions, and assisted voters and interested parties by providing requested records.
The employee expected to participate in the following political activities: door-to-door campaigning, participating in phone bank work, coordinating volunteers, giving instructions on election procedures, staffing the campaign headquarters, participating in voter registration drives, attending rallies and fundraising events, and preparing mailings to registered voters.
In prohibiting the activity, the Commission balanced the State employee’s interests with the public’s interest in ensuring fair and unbiased elections.
In Case No. 05-03, the Commission considered an allegation that a Department of Community Affairs (“DCA”) employee violated the Political Activities Prohibition of the DCA Code of Ethics when her name and picture appeared on a campaign mailer for a local mayoral candidate. The campaign mailer prominently featured the State employee in her capacity as a former mayor. It did not mention her role with the State and did not reference any relationship between the municipality and the DCA. Section XI, Political Activities Prohibition, of the DCA Code provides as follows:
An employee shall not directly or indirectly use or seek to use his authority or the influence of his position to control or modify the political action of another person. An employee during the hours of duty shall not engage in political activity; nor shall he at any other time participate in political activities, which would impair his usefulness in the position in which he is employed. A State employee retains the right to vote as he chooses and to express his opinions on political subjects and candidates.