The 12th-District Senate race between incumbent Democrat Ellen Karcher and Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, already framed by both sides as a contest over which candidate is the most committed to ethics reforms in Trenton, got personal yesterday.

Karcher accused Beck, of Red Bank, of violating ethics rules by using state letterhead and other trappings of office for political purposes within 90 days of an election.


The complaint concerns a letter written on Beck’s legislative stationery to residents of Seabrook Village in Tinton Falls. It highlights Beck’s opposition to a plan by the Navy to allow some 300 civilian families to occupy military housing at the Naval Weapons Station Earle, and refers readers to “our online petition” expressing opposition to the plan.

The website location of the petition — nociviliansatearle.org — is prominently marked as “Sponsored by Beck for Senate and O’Scanlon and Casagrande for Assembly,” referring to Beck ticketmates Declan O’Scanlon of Little Silver and Caroline Casagrande of Colts Neck.

In letters sent yesterday to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ethical Standards and the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Karcher asks for investigations into whether state legislative funds were improperly used for campaign purposes. She contends the letter was sent out in August, within the 90-day moratorium.

From the news blog PoliticsNJ:

Beck responded that the complaint was “frivolous,” and that she never mailed the letter. Instead, she handed it out during a visit to Seabrook Village, a senior living center in Tinton Falls. Beck said that handing out the letter did not violate the “spirit or letter of the law.”

The dispute appears to hinge on whether the missive went out in July, before the clock started on the 90-day countdown, or in August. Beck contends, in comments to today’s Asbury Park Press, that there are two separate letters, one in July and the other in August, and that both were in-bounds.

From the Press:

Beck said that the July 2007 letter in question was a handout distributed to residents of the Seabrook Village retirement community at a monthly meeting she holds there, and acknowledged that state funds were used to produce that handout. A separate letter about the Earle issue, on campaign letterhead and paid for by the GOP campaign, was mailed to Tinton Falls residents in August, she said.

“The letter from July 2007 was not mailed. That was handed out at Seabrook Village along with the petition. That was a legitimate use of my legislative office to inform them about an issue,” Beck said.

Beck’s response prompted another press release from the Karcher camp, this one headlined, “ASSEMBLYWOMAN BECK ADMITS ETHICS VIOLATION.”

It read:

In response to the ethics complaint filed against her by State Senator Ellen Karcher, Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck admitted violating state ethics laws when she admitted to distributing a letter on state letterhead directing readers to a partisan political website.

“Rules prohibiting the use of official state stationery for political campaigns are in place so taxpayers are not subjected to partisan propaganda, whether you personally hand them out or distribute it by mail,” said Karcher. “Assemblywoman Beck claims to be an ethics reformer, yet she breaks the very rules she claims to abide by. She clearly abused taxpayer money for her own political gain and she has to be held accountable for it.”

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