Insurance goliath John Graham and his son, Ryan are no stranger to local politics. In March, the elder Graham was honored and inducted into the 2015 Essex County Democratic Committee Hall of Fame. In addition to being heavily involved in Essex County politics, Graham has also previously served as national finance co-chair for Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008, and also as state director for John Kerry, when he ran for president.
Fairview Insurance, the agency Graham started in 1970 also happens to be the broker of record for the Township of Parsippany. As the largest municipality in Morris County, Parsippany provides Fairview with hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in commission for directing the township into self-funding it’s own employee health and dental plan.
While it’s not unusual for insurance brokers to earn hefty commissions, Fairview and the Graham family have built a reputation for making hefty political donations to candidates, committees, and PAC’s in the same municipalities and counties they do business in.
In January 2010, in one of his first acts after becoming mayor of Parsippany, Mayor James Barberio, along with Council members Mike dePierro, John Fox, Ann Grossi, John Cesaro, and Brian Stanton, amended Parsippany’s Pay-To-Play Ordinance to allow professionals who contracted with the township to donate unlimited amounts to the Morris County Republican and Democratic Committees. The prior ordinance allowed township professionals only $500 each year to be donated to the County Committees.
One of the Council members who originally voted to confirm Fairview as Parsippany’s insurance broker was John Cesaro. In 2012, Cesaro announced his candidacy for Morris County Freeholder. Ryan Graham and his wife promptly donated $5100 to Cesaro’s freeholder campaign.
Even though Cesaro was a candidate for a county position, the townships pay-to-play ordinance prohibits professionals from donating more than $300 each year to office holders. Township attorney John Inglesino recently told Parsippany Focus that as township attorney he investigated whether Graham’s $5100 contribution was a campaign violation (which if guilty would bar Fairview from working for Parsippany for four years) but determined that since Ryan Graham and his wife did not own more than a 10% equity stake in Fairview, the contribution was legal.
*editor’s note. It is also a pay-to-play violation to knowingly circumvent Parsippany’s ordinance. If proven that Mr. Graham donated the money to Mr. Cesaro on his father’s behalf, that would trigger a violation…something that is very difficult to prove.
On or around September 18, 2013, Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette authored a letter to contributors which in part said that “Parsippany has an ordinance that makes it practically impossible to raise campaign contributions…Checks should be made out to ‘Friends of Jamie Barberio’ and mailed to me at MCRC, 26 Schuyler Place Morristown, NJ 07960.”
On September 27, 2013, one week after Mr. Sette’s letter was mailed, Mr. Graham promptly donated $7200 to the Morris County Republican Committee, money specifically earmarked for Mayor Barberio’s reelection campaign. This was the first and only donation ever reported to having been made to the Morris County Republicans by anyone from Fairview Insurance.
Democratic PAC enters Par-Troy GOP Council Race
Last month, New York Observer owned news website, Politickrnj.com reported that a Super PAC with Democratic ties had injected itself into the 2015 Parsippany Republican Council primary. The PAC, NJ’s Future First, it was reported, was being financed by Fairview Insurance Agency’s Ryan Graham in order to pay longtime Barberio campaign strategist, Alan Zakin. Although the NJ’s Future First mission statement declares that it does not endorse individual candidates, The PAC has made a large presence in Parsippany by hiring campaign workers and printing literature in support of Councilman dePierro, Vincent Ferrara, and Loretta Gragnani. dePierro and Ferrera, while previously on the township council, voted to reappoint Fairview as the Township’s broker, while their opponent Councilman Paul Carifi and his running mates Aida Visakay and John Beehler, have been openingly critical of Fairview’s contract with Parsippany.
Several residents have told Parsippany Focus that workers for NJ’s Future First have appeared on their doorstep urging voters to vote for dePierro’s council slate and John Cesaro’s freeholder slate….both teams being longtime Fairview Insurance supporters.
In March, Mr. Graham also emailed people to support Freeholder Cesaro at a fundraiser being held in Essex County.
Just this week, Jeff Brindle, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission authored an opt-ed in which he blasted the Super PAC for injecting itself into a local Parsippany GOP primary race.
Mayor Barberio’s closest childhood friend on Fairview payroll
In 2013 and 2014 Parsippany Council members publicly asked Mayor Barberio and Mr. Graham if any of Mayor Barberio’s family or close friends worked for, or had any business relationship with Fairview insurance. Mr. Graham and Mr. Barberio both answered no. Parsippany Focus has recently learned that life-long Barberio friend and supporter, actor, Daniel Margotta, has received at least $87,878 in compensation from Fairview and possibly as much as $324,529 beginning in 2011. Mr. Margotta’s Linkedin page makes no mention of being in the insurance industry.
Emails to Mr. Graham and Fairview Insurance have been unanswered as of the time of publication.