Questions Over Campaign Contributions Heat Up BOE Forum

Four candidates are running for three spots on the board


A Board of Education Candidates Forum held this week at the high school became contentious when the touchy subject of campaign financing was raised.

The panel of four candidates seeking three seats in the upcoming election spoke on a variety of issues before addressing questions from the audience.  At that point Bloomfield resident and former BOE member Matt Yar asked sitting board member Dianna Fuller to explain a recent $150-a-head fundraiser sponsored by Democratic Councilman Michael Venezia.

“The average citizen in Bloomfield could not afford to pay $150,” he said. “Who was your targeted audience?” 

When Fuller replied that the fundraiser was organized by her cousin, Yar countered,  “It was promoted by the Councilman himself . . . Somebody’s not telling the truth.”

“I don’t like being implied to be a liar, Mr. Yar,” Fuller shot back, her voice shaking.  “That fundraiser was done by my cousin.  If Mr. Venezia was supporting it, then so be it.  Talk to Mr. Venezia.  I take contributions from anyone who would like to support my campaign.”

She added, “I’m dedicated and I want to do my job and it doesn’t matter what my political affiliation is.”

Fuller, who said she did not know what amount was raised at the fundraiser, said she had also hosted a $35 wine-and-cheese fundraiser at a friend’s home.

Following this exchange, another member of the audience asked about a contribution by Republican party member Candy Straight that was given to the other three candidates, Mary Shaughnessy, Kent Weisert and Dan Anderson, all running as members of “BEST (Building Excellent Schools Together) Team 2012.”

Shaughnessy, currently the BOE President, said Straight made “a modest contribution” to their campaign, while Weisert joked, “I must confess to a deep, dark secret, that I did sit next to Candy Straight in 10th grade World History class and at that time I had a teeny bit of a crush on her.” 

Amidst laughter from the audience, Weisert admitted he did not know how much Straight contributed.  Shaughnessy told Patch after the meeting Straight gave $250 to the "BEST team."

The discussion of campaign contributions is a political hot potato in Bloomfield right now, with some residents expressing the view that “Pay to Play” is alive and well leading up to the BOE elections on April 17.

The term pay to play, commonly known as the practice of seeking monetary contributions to gain political advantage or office, was how one Bloomfield resident described Fuller’s campaign practices.  The resident, who asked not to be named, told Patch in a separate conversation, “An elected official sponsoring a candidate in a non-partisan election at $150 a ticket is focused toward vendors and contractors.  You have to wonder: what do they want in return?”

William Padilla April 06, 2012 at 01:03 PM
A $150 Fundraising for a BOE candidate? There's got to be a "huge" catch here ... somewhere!! What is Venezia's motive, I mean goal in initiating or supporting this fundraising. As a BOE candidate do you really need this much money. I know you have to have money for campaign purposes but I think people will think twice or thrice how ridiculous this fundraising amount is. It's too bad that BOE is now a political arena.
john g chipko April 06, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Why is anyone giving to candidates for the BOE? This stinks to high heaven, seems to be about the board meembers again and not the children.
nina April 06, 2012 at 04:37 PM
One thing to keep in mind people is that the BOE election should always be about the children!!! I personally feel that this is something that is always forgotten during this election. It should never be about who raised the most money or which politician is supporting which candidate. It should be about which candidate is better qualified to do the job at hand. If we can keep in mind that the BOE election is a non-partisan election and focus more on the children and who can move them forward, there would be a lot less drama. Its annoying and aggravating to consistently have to read about why is this politician supporting this and bla bla bla. Its ridiculous. I feel that the people who are taking their time to pull political contributions and ELEC forms have more of a hidden agenda then someone like Councilman Venezia "hosting" a fundraiser. Looking at the 4 candidates, my vote goes to 2, one from each side who I feel are both equally qualified for the job. The other 2, to me, are just a waste of time and have more of a hidden agenda then anyone else.
Nicole Williams April 06, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Mr. Padilla - M Venezia had NOTHING to do with the fundraiser that my family and I created, sponsored, and hosted under the name NJ Progress which is a Political Committee create by me and my family to support my cousin Dianna's re-election campaign. The $150 was a suggested donation and no we didnt expect people to be able to give that much. People gave what they could, be it $20 or $50 or nothing at all but a supportive word for the Candidate. M Venezia was sent an email invite along with all the other invitees and I asked them to pass the word to family and friends who they thought might want to support Ms Fuller as well. That's all he did. The lies about him sponsoring or hosting the event are meant to distract people from the fact that we have 1 candidate who has had zero involvement or interest in the school district until the bloomfield republican committee encouraged him to run after a failed council campaign. Please don't be blinded by the lies people including local newspapers are spreading. My NJ Elec reports are online for the public to see. -NW
James Wollner April 07, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Ms. Fuller's cousin responded to the criticism of a citizen by sayingthat Mr. Venezia didn't have anything to do with the fundraiser at Bella Napoli when he clearly did! She further stated that she asked for his help and that of his friends. Ms. Williams further responded that 1 candidate didn't have zero interest or involvement until asked by the Bloomfield Republican CC. Every citizen ,, no matter what party affiliation has a right to run for office and one that is a life long resident is no exception. Ms. Williams, didn't Mr. Strumolo ask your cousin to run in her 1st election? Didn't you ask for Mr. Venezia's help? Isn't someone in your family a member of the Bloomfield Democrat County Committee? Doesn't Your cousin, Ms. Fuller work for the county? According to you NJ Progress a Democrat political comittee also helped Ms. Fuller. Lastly, didn't Mr. Venezia reccomend you sit on the Parking Authority? What is the saying "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones".


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