Judge Shuts Down 'Phantom' Candidates' Donor On South Jersey Ballots
Judge Shuts Down 'Phantom' Candidates' Donor On South Jersey Ballots

Judge Shuts Down 'Phantom' Candidates' Donor On South Jersey Ballots

SOUTH JERSEY — A judge froze the bank account of an entity accused of financing “phantom” candidates who ran to siphon votes away from Republicans in key State Legislature races.

Jersey Freedom, a dark-money group, has financed candidates running for State Senate in two South Jersey districts ahead of Tuesday’s elections.

One of those candidates, Giuseppe Costanzo, is running as an independent in the 4th Legislative District under the banner “Conservatives South Jersey.” Costanzo, however, appears to not have voted in the past decade and only re-registered to vote last June before entering the race, according to a lawsuit brought by the New Jersey Republican State Committee.

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Maureen Dukes Penrose, his running mate for Assembly, is a registered Democrat, according to the complaint.

One of the people who circulated petitions for their campaign is the daughter of a close political ally to Assembly Member Paul Moriarty — District 4’s Democratic candidate for State Senate — the court filing says.

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Costanzo and Penrose haven’t publicly communicated with voters since filing to run, the lawsuit says.

Jersey Freedom has sent attack mailers and run ads on Fox News to redirect Republicans from voting for Christopher Del Borrello — the GOP’s State Senate candidate in the district — according to the lawsuit.

On Friday, Judge Michael Blee ordered Jersey Freedom to halt any further campaign expenditures or political communications regarding the upcoming elections.

Along with the state GOP, plaintiffs in the lawsuit also include Del Borrello and State Sen. Vincent Polistina — a Republican running for re-election in New Jersey’s 2nd Legislative District.

With all seats in the State Senate and Assembly up for grabs in Tuesday’s general election, the 2nd and 4th district races have been considered among the most competitive in the State Legislature. Republicans currently hold the State Senate and Assembly seats in District 2, which encompasses most of Atlantic County. Democrats currently represent District 4, which includes parts of Camden, Gloucester and Atlantic counties.

Jersey Freedom contributed to the campaign of Libertarian Shawn Peck — a State Senate candidate in District 2. However, Peck denounced the dark-money group and dropped out of the race, endorsing Polistina in late October.

Peck had never heard of Jersey Freedom until then, he told New Jersey Globe.

While Friday’s order halts Jersey Freedom for the rest of the election cycle, Blee said he cannot stop any advertisements it paid for before the ruling.

The plaintiff’s attorney praised Blee’s order.

“Going into an election, there is nothing more important than the public’s trust in the integrity of the system and transparency in campaign finance,” Jason Sena said in a statement. “We are pleased that the Court took action against this shadowy group to protect voters and the election process from people who would make a mockery of our campaign finance laws.”

Jersey Freedom, which has no listed contact information, could not be reached for comment.

A person with Democratic ties helped Costanzo and Penrose get on the ballot, the lawsuit says. Angela McGeehan, of Williamstown, is a registered Democrat and the daughter of Frank Cianci — the former Democratic Municipal Chair in Washington Township and Moriarty’s political ally — according to the complaint.

McGeehan collected nearly three-dozen signatures for each of their nominating petitions, the court filing says.

The lawsuit does not implicate any of the Democratic candidates or campaigns purportedly benefitting from Jersey Freedom-backed candidates. The campaign for the party’s District 4 candidates has no knowledge of the lawsuit’s allegations outside of what’s been reported in news media, according to a campaign spokesperson.

Oral arguments in the lawsuit are scheduled to begin Dec. 11.

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