Blog: On Sean Spiller — Follow the Money

Baristanet-BlogsA few days ago on the Montclair Watercooler there was a discussion of the political race for the 3rd Ward Council seat in Montclair between Sean Spiller (the incumbent) and resident Maureen Edelson. I initiated that thread based upon other comments I had read about mailed campaign literature (ads) by Mr. Spiller. At one point in the discussion, a member of the group inquired, “Where does the money come from for all these ads.”

Since I have recused myself of any discussion of education issues on the Montclair Watercooler, I could only answer that query with a comment that the information is available, and someone should report back on it. Here is that “reporting.”

Donations to public campaigns are public. This is a good thing for our democracy of course. You may see who donates to a campaign (amounts greater than $300 are listed in detail) in NJ in advance of the election as well. Anyone may use the power of the internet to see the documents for Mr. Spiller’s campaign here

Please note that the linked document only shows a subset of the total pre-election portion of donations. One may see the “this report” and the “cumulative to date” columns on the first page. This file discloses the following:

  • The single largest contributor in the given time period is the New Jersey Education Association’s PAC. They donated $5550 (including a private NJEA contributor). The NJEA is Mr. Spiller’s employer. This accounts for 42% of the donations in this time period.
    In the reported time period, $12,500 was contributed by organizations or donors outside of Montclair. This is approximately 90% of the total funding received.
  • The firm of Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum, & Friedman contributed $700 in this time period. They are the same law firm which the NJEA employs (you may see NJEA IRS Form 990s for this), and they represented Mr. Spiller in his failed defense of conflict or interest charges in Montclair earlier this year.
  • The campaign expense document shows $11,813.02 paid to Publitics Solutions, LLC. It’s public web site shows Mr. Henry de Koninck as a Principal and Consultant to the firm. Mr. de Koninck is the son of Montclair’s Board of Education President, Mrs. Jessica de Koninck. Mrs. De Koninck was appointed by Mayor Jackson (Montclair 2012 was a client of Mr. de Koninck in 2012).

There are other contributions of note, but I leave that to you to review.


Why does this matter? I would like you to consider the following:

  • Third Ward residents have received no fewer than six full-color mailings from Sean Spiller over the past few weeks, not to mention Working Families Party door-knockers canvasing the neighborhood in support of Mr. Spiller.
    The largest percentage of Mr. Spiller’s donations have come from the PACs of Teachers Unions Mr. Spiller is or has been involved with (the NJEA and the Wayne, NJ Teacher’s Union). He is currently the 3rd ranking official at the NJEA as Secretary. Did Mr. Spiller recuse himself from the decision to make these contributions? It is impossible to know.
  • For what purpose are the union dues of teachers in New Jersey all of those other contributions outside of Montclair being spent on a municipal election in Montclair?
  • Speaking of union dues, Montclair teachers pay dues to the NJEA. Our taxes pay their salaries (~80% of the yearly BoE budget).

In light of the recent decision by Judge Moore in regard to Mr. Spiller’s conflict of interest issues which forced Mr. Spiller to vacate his position on the Board of School Estimate, I believe it is reasonable and fair for residents preparing to vote to know the contribution information that is public for all. It is also noteworthy that our local newspaper has not helped to share this information for residents of Montclair. For all the mailers received and the other campaign activity, an informed voter should follow the money.

Please do make a point to vote on Tuesday, May 10th. The 3rd Ward Council race is the one with a choice.



Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.


  1. Baristanet and its owners/founders/managers are to be applauded, as always, for having brought a fresh press outlet to northern NJ. Vive le 1st Amendment.

  2. And how about the other candidates donation record? Where is that information please. Seems only fair….

  3. Hi Crankin, Happy to respond to, yes, a fair question, even though reporting of most individual gifts is not required for my sized campaign. I have fewer than $2000 in donations. The largest gift was $300. The bulk are in the $10 – $100 range. Each donor has a residence in the town of Montclair. Most are in the 3rd Ward. It’s an honor to have their enthusiastic, local support. Cheers, Maureen

  4. Thanks very much Maureen. Appreciate the transparency, And Jonb….when an article investigates details about one candidate, but not the other, it tends to make the reader (at least this reader) suspicious. Glad Maureen was able to clarify.

  5. “Much ado about nothing”…
    – William Shakespear

    Earth shattering news above here Jon. Let me help further clarify some of the key take-aways.

    1) The PAC for the NJEA statewide supports candidates that ostensibly back its political positions. (Wow)

    2) Mayor Jackson appoints people to the BOE who try to steer the township into calmer waters and stop the inter-communal education war we’ve been facing for the last few years. Jessica de Konick, a former State Education Dept. official is one of them. (totally unexpected)

    3) You’ve been one of the major players in the educational policy wars here and ended up suing the Township and Spiller to remove him from the Board of School Estimate – given his union position. (not ever mentioned above)

    3) The son of Ms. de Konick, one of Major Jackson’s School Board appointees and now Board chair, is a professional political consultant working federal, state and local elections. He helps prepare multiple information mailers about candidate Spiller. The mailings point out policy differences between his progressive views and Maureen’s conservative positions. (never thought this could happen. Why? Just because he helped Sean and 4 others win here last election – incredible)

    4) Maureen uses the internet for multiple postings and commentaries almost daily on everything from her her boy scouting support. She dominates the internet chats and facebook etc. while Spiller personally remains silent, never seems to post. Instead relies on mailings. (just shocking tactically)

    So like I said….

    “What’s the Rumpus?”
    – Miller’s Crossing

  6. “1) The PAC for the NJEA statewide supports candidates that ostensibly back its political positions. (Wow)”

    Martin — yes unions give money to political candidates all the time. Except in this case the candidate is one of that union’s top ranking officials himself — yes wow. So a portion of Montclair teachers’ dues are going to subsidize Sean Spiller’s campaign for a seat on the Montclair Town Council. Very dicey in mind. I wonder who from the union decides which candidates they should give money to? As the State Treasurer.. did Mr. Spiller decide to donate union money to his own campaign? I trust you see the inherent conflict of interest here.

    Furthermore, you cannot be employed as a teacher in Montclair and NOT join the union. You cannot opt out. This is egregiously un-american.

  7. In response –

    1) “ostensibly” and paid employee support are two different things.
    2) You honestly characterize the recent BoE meetings as “calmer”? Clearly you have not watched.
    3) You state the obvious. I have made no secret of my support for an honest conflict of interest free advancement of our public schools. As such I am a public member of MKF. Anyone who remotely follows the discussion knows that.
    3 again for some reason) I merely stated facts. Mr. de Koninck does a wonderful job, and I hope his predictions for the national election this Fall are accurate.
    4) Bravo to Ms. Edelson for engaging others on social media. That Mr. Spiller relies on mailers and paid operatives who stammer when they are asked if they know him as they go door to door promoting him, is his choice.

    I’m still waiting for all his mailers to be called “glossy” on the MCAS page, but I won’t hold my breath.

    “That’s Like, Your Opinion, Man.”
    – The Big Lebowski

  8. “at the end of the day, we all kiss our kids goodnight, we care about our health and our neighbors’ well-being and we are all part of the fabric that makes up that special town known as Montclair”…
    – commentaries from life in the Internet Age
    M.Schwartz – Baristanet May 2016

  9. Also notice that Spiller gets contributions from the Democratic party – so much for a non-partisan election. And unlike Martin Schwartz, I applaud Edelson for engaging people through social media instead of sending attack flyers like Spiller’s campaign does. She isn’t on-the- take like he is and is putting time and effort into getting her message out.

  10. Spiller is “on-the- take?” For real? Perhaps it isn’t too late to sue him and get him off today’s ballot.

  11. “You honestly characterize the recent BoE meetings as “calmer”? Clearly you have not watched.”

    Thank you, Jon. I nearly fell off my chair when I read the earlier comment about “calmer waters.”

    At the April 18 meeting, David Herron called outgoing Board member Robin Kulwin a criminal. The Board sat silent.

    At the May 4 meeting, Fran Moccio screamed at another outgoing member, David Deutsch, from the moment she reached the microphone.

    Calmer waters? Really?

  12. For the record..I didn’t criticize Maureen for using the internet. I pointed out only that Spiller used mass mailings and she used mass on-line postings. Perhaps her approach will work better? Certainly it’s less expensive.

    Remember, Jon’s original post made a very big deal about the mass mailings – yet are not both approaches just marketing communications? I fully support Internet communications as a campaign tactic — and think Maureen used it well.

    The point here only (from my sarcastic post above) is Jon making a big deal about what is just Spiller’s campaign communications.

  13. P.S…the calmer BOE waters will hopefully come when the stink of the last school board’s actions stop smelling. With a changing of the guard, that should eventually happen down the road.

    People can disagree on policy decisions and still get along if due process and good government are respected. However, when behavior and actions become so egregious to the point where one side no longer maintains mutual respect, or you have accusations flying from potentially unlawful behavior — clearly something went wrong.

  14. Spiller is “on-the- take?” For real?

    yes – he fits the definition – he takes contributions from the NJEA, the Essex County Democratic Party, some other PACs, a law firm connected to his public union employer and some people who don’t live in Montclair.

  15. If that’s the case, and he really is taking donations from people outside of Montclair, perhaps we still have time to file an injunction to stop today’s election in the third ward. Does anyone have the contact info for Shavar Jeffries from Montclair Kids First? He’s the guy from Newark who sued Spiller. He’s at the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler. That’s Brian Stolar’s old firm. Stolar is the developer in town who owns the Siena, the Wellmont, Valley & Bloom and the new hotel.

  16. A agree with Martin…it’s no big deal. It happened in the last election and will only gain prominence in future ones. The amounts involved here are actually small potatoes compared to what an elected school board campaign would be like. Clearly, there are people outside town – even nationwide – that have an interest in who would get elected in Montclair…and will fund them. If you are going to run for elected office here, you are going to need some deep-pocketed donors to have a chance.

  17. Just about all Mr Spiller’s campaign money comes from:

    Teachers Unions (Mr. Spiller’s employer)
    Essex County Democratic Party
    Blue Wave

    Non-Partisan, uh?

  18. Leakyfaucet
    Believe me you don’t want to go there with Jeffries. Have you seen his contributors when he ran for mayor of Newark. They were from everywhere. California, Florida, New York and they gave big money $25,000. Now why would people in LA care who runs broken down Newark. That is not where you want to go. This is politics. And if you don’t have the support and the $$$, don’t get into this game.

  19. leakyfaucet – your playing a Trump-like game of ‘he started it’ like a 5-yr old. I have no affiliation to MKF, MCAS or any akronym’d organization in town. I am however, a taxpayer and public school parent who wants what’s best for Montclair, not what’s best for a public sector union or county political organization. My point is that Spiller – who by all appearances is sincere – is running a partisan, attack-oriented campaign in a supposedly non-partisan election while his opponent is running a grassroots campaign engaging residents openly through social media.

  20. cspn55 – you really need to grow up a bit. Spiller positioned Maureen Edelson for the conservative republican that she is – always trying hide from the position by claiming she’s an Independent.

    Spiller in contrast always called himself a progressive – and he remained a Democrat. No secret.

    Everyone knows what the differences in perspectives are. And if you don’t know how their views and values differ then all you have to do is watch their debate.

    Both then presented those views using media like Schwartz noted above. One approach obviously costs more than the other, but who knows which one is more impactful. Obviously, Spiller’s people think it’s mailings. We’ll find out shortly.

    But as to grassroots v. targeted mailings, if you consider lots of social media posts about Maureen Edelson’s involvement with scouting to be “grassroots”, well then I am sufficiently “engaged”….

  21. cspn55, I think you may have painted that one on a bit heavily. Maureen did engage with people via social media – which I found to be rather refreshing for what it’s worth. However, she also declined to offer any window into her views on education or the town’s education policies for example. So while she was very accessible (again, refreshing…) that is not quite the same as being “open”.

    While it may have cemented folks’ opinions on wholly opposite sides of the spectrum, it can’t really be argued that Spiller’s views are far better understood than Maureen’s… and were she to have had the funding, a mail piece or other communication outlining her positions wouldn’t have been a bad thing necessarily.

    In fact, since her initials aren’t “Sean Spiller” many people who seem to have developed a recent distaste for the U.S. Mail as a communications channel might have just swung right back around to putting their stamp of approval on the tactic.

  22. Why the name calling, cspn55? I’m in your camp. Spiller is “on-the- take,” just like you said. Plus, he’s not on Facebook like Maureen Edelson, so obviously he has something to hide.

  23. “she also declined to offer any window into her views on education or the town’s education policies for example”

    The ward counselors don’t have a say in the BOE or education policy in town – she isn’t running for mayor. Makes her views on education unimportant to me. Unless she gets on the BOSE. These candidates need to talk about garbage privatization, road conditions, town debt and development.

    “Spiller positioned Maureen Edelson for the conservative republican that she is”

    Again, it’s supposed to be a non-partisan election. who cares if she is pro-life, pro-choice, anti-war, pro-carbon tax credits….this is supposed to be about citizens of Montclair governing Montclair for the benefit of Montclair. I for one, like the idea of having someone who won’t just sit there and just rubber stamp what the Mayor wants to do. Not that I mind Jackson – but the goal for the counsel is to run the town for us – the taxpayers – and not to put the NJEA or the Essex county Democratic party first.

  24. Hi, Baristanet community, what a nice, thoughtful and diverse thread today. Feels fresh, too. If you live in Montclair, make sure you vote today!

    Dblespresso, re communications: I agree that the community would have been served by a side-by-side comparison of positions, such as the NAACP prepared so thoroughly in 2012. No neutral party stepped up to produce it. I was surprised the invite never came. The LWV debate was the best we had, and it was very good, in my opinion and from what I hear from others. I believe Sean and I could have, if there was time, gone into five or six topics much more fully, and that would have been further clarifying and very enjoyable.

    On views about education: if it hasn’t been figured out already, I’m old-school about many things, and, in that manner, respect limits or turf. Education issues are not within the purview of a 3rd Ward Councilor. Thus, I believe it shows respect to those in the BOE seats to keep my lips sealed, and keeps order in our town’s ecosystem. As a private citizen, I have broad, deep and wide opinions and experience in education and in MPS education; a good portion of it has been public, going back to 1989 and serving on the planning committee for Rand Family Magnet. We can talk further about education over a dblespresso, as private citizens, any time you’d like.

  25. Why in the world wouldn’t education issues be within the purview of a Town Council member? Two of the five members of the Board of School Estimate are members of the Town Council.

  26. Final thoughts…..

    Both Maureen and Sean are to be congratulated for running mostly an issue and philosophically oriented political campaign.

    Aside from some miss-direction sniping and hullabaloo here from a few posters, IMHO there were choices presented in views and positions — and democracy was served.

    FYI..calling someone a ‘progressive democrat’ or a ‘conservative republican’ is not getting down in the mud as some want to believe here. They are just quick reference type-casting for identifying someone’s POV – even in a non-partisan election. That’s because as issues work themselves downward locally into decisions and Council votes — those “labels” generally do still hold up despite cspn55 believing otherwise.

    Clearly both presented the traditional policy positions as advertised – which largely reflected traditional “labeled” and tagged views.

  27. Peter and Leakyfaucet
    You opened the floodgates about campaign funding and where Spiller’s money came from ,even mentioned seeking out the help of Shavar Jeffries who ran for mayor of Newark well, what did you find? Did you pull up his contributions? I know it’s only been a day, but you’ll not gonna make me do all of the work, are you?

Comments are closed.