The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -Before he helped the government snare dozens of New Jersey public officials by offering bribes, the FBI's informant in a corruption case was a prolific on-the-books campaign donor, giving roughly $190,000 to high-level candidates over an eight-year span.
None of the 30 or so politicians who received legal campaign donations from Solomon Dwek have been implicated in the scandal. Forty-four people, mostly Democrats, were arrested last week, including three mayors, two state assemblymen, five rabbis and many other public officials.
But many recipients are rushing to give the money to charity as they look to distance themselves from Dwek and the state's culture of corruption.
"When you've taken money from somebody in involved in a scandal, you give it back as fast as you can," said Peter Woolley, a political science professor and pollster at Fairleigh Dickinson-Public Mind. "In the public's mind, giving money and influencing politicians is one in the same thing."
The campaign contributions were first reported Thursday by The Record of Bergen County.
Dwek and his wife, Pearl, donated to candidates at all levels of government ‚ a sign of just how politically connected the former real estate developer was.
Conversely, none of the elected officials arrested Thursday received official campaign donations from the Dweks.
Dwek's legal donations began in 1998, according to state and federal campaign finance records, and stopped just weeks before his April 2006 arrest for federal bank fraud. That crime put him under the FBI's thumb and led to his undercover work offering money to dozens of public officials and politicians in exchange for their influence.
The son of a Deal rabbi, Dwek allegedly bounced a $25 million check he deposited in a bank's drive-through window. Dwek's fraud case is pending, but his name quickly surfaced last week as the cooperating witness who wore a wire as he offered the bribes, posing as a developer seeking help to speed projects in several north Jersey cities.
According to campaign finance records, recipients of his legitimate donations include a county officials, state assemblymen and senators, congressmen and two former gubernatorial candidates, and even a U.S. president. They do not include current Gov. Jon Corzine, however.
He gave to both political parties, and most heavily in his own district near the Jersey shore.
A message left for Dwek's attorney was not returned Thursday.
Among the biggest beneficiaries was Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone, who received $10,900 from Dwek and his wife, Pearl, from 1999 to 2005. The couple gave Pallone's political action committee an additional $5,000 in 2005.
Rich McGrath, a spokesman for Pallone, said the congressman has known Dwek's father for 25 years, and the rabbi's family have been longtime supporters.
Still, Pallone plans to give the donations to a yet-unnamed charity in light of last week's revelations, McGrath said.
Some politicians who received as little as $500, like state Senate President Richard Codey, are giving it away, too.
Other Democratic recipients include U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, Congressmen Rush Holt, former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, and former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt.
Republicans recipients were state Sens. Tom Kean, Jr. and Joseph Kyrillos, 2005 GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester, former Congressmen Bob Franks and Dick Zimmer, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter ‚ who became a Democrat earlier this year ‚ and even President George W. Bush.
The Dweks' donations favored Republicans at the state level and Democrats at the federal level.
Kevin Roberts, a New Jersey Republican State Committee spokesman, said the committee planned to give away the $51,500 it received from the Dweks.
Some say, however, that donations taken in good faith should not have to be returned because the donor went on to do questionable things.
"Anybody that took donations from someone who at the time they believed to be an honest person shouldn't have to give them back," said State Democratic Party leader Joseph Cryan, who has no plans to return the $5,000 the Democratic State Committee accepted from Dwek in 2003.
Associated Press writer AngelaDelli Santi and AP news researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.