Lesson one for any student of state and local pay-to-play laws: just when you think you have a handle on them, they change.  Recent developments in a small New Jersey township provide a case-in-point.

Last month, Upper Township, New Jersey, adopted an ordinance that forbids the township from entering into certain kinds of contracts if, for example, an executive for the prospective contractor made a political contribution to a township political party or candidate with ultimate responsibility for the award of the contract within the last year.  The ordinance also prohibits contractors and key employees from making these political contributions during the life of the contract and during contract negotiations.  There was, however, a notable exception: the rules did not apply to small-dollar donations of $300 or less.

Before the proverbial ink has dried, however, this new ordinance appears ready for another change.  Last week, a township committee voted unanimously to ask the township solicitor to draft a new ordinance that gets rid of the $300 threshold.  Under the proposed change, an employee’s contribution of just one dollar may be enough to prevent a company from doing business with the township for four years.

The takeaway here is that it is not enough for government contractors to assume that their political activities comply with pay-to-play laws because they complied with the pay-to-play laws last year or even last month.  Prior to making or soliciting any contribution in jurisdictions in which they are active, government contractors should make sure that the contribution complies with current law.