TOMS RIVER-The campaign for Mo Hill for Mayor today admitted that it has passed off a “paid for by” advertisement as a legitimate news article to voters in Toms River. A “news article” published on Jersey Shore Online claims Mo Hill’s opponent, Jonathan Petro lied about Hill’s plan to build 10 story apartments in Downtown Toms River.
When questioned by a voter on the matter, Hill’s team admitted it paid $2,000 to Micromedia Publications to publish political advertisements to appear as news stories on the website.
In the story, entitled “Opinion & Commentary Business Improvement Group Asks Petro to Stop Lying About Downtown Redevelopment“, Hill denies that his plan to redevelop Downtown Toms River includes 10 story buildings, but multiple documents, including ordinances, vision plans, architectural renderings and 3D animations fully support Petro’s claim that the township plans on building multiple high-density 10-story apartments downtown.
Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Jean Mikle wrote, “Taller structures of varying heights would be permitted downtown under a redevelopment plan the township adopted last year. Fifty percent of structures would be two to four stories high; 20 percent five to seven stories, and 10 percent eight to 10 stories.”
Mikle’s article was supported by evidence provided by the township itself in plans touting the project.
According to Mo Hill’s New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission filings, the campaign paid Micromedia Publications, operator of Jersey Shore Online a sum of $2,000 for the ability to post their campaign literature as news to the company’s website.
In Hill’s “Paid for by” article, Robert C. Shea, the downtown redevelopment group’s chairman wrote a letter condemning Petro’s stance against the downtown overdevelopment project. Shea’s law firm has also donated money to Hill’s campaign, according to Hill’s campaign filing.
It’s not the first time the Hill campaign has paid money to local news organizations for news coverage. Hill paid at least $4,000 to Patch and “journalist” Karen Wall to write a scathingly false article about Shore News Network in a failed attempt to stop Shore News Network from covering his campaign mishaps. Mo Hill has defended his decision to pay local news outlets for positive news stories about his campaign. In that article, Mo Hill’s stance was supported by developer Jeremy Grunin, who has donated at least $20,000 to Hill’s campaign and Art Gallagher, Hill’s media manager who has been paid at least $110,000 by Hill in 2019 alone.
Toms River resident Dennis Cafiero confronted Hill’s campaign over the “paid for by” news story.
“Is there a reason this article had to be a sponsored post and not the point of view of the new agency?” Cafiero asked Hill. “Curious why you needed to pay them to publish this? Seems wrong they took your money.”
Hill said the money given to Micromedia Publications was well spent and defended his purchase.
“We wanted to get the word out quickly and unfiltered, Dennis. We don’t have a problem putting our name on our material. Their fee was reasonable,” Hill responded. “We requested this arrangement back during the primary. They had never done it before. It is working well for both parties.”
“Feels wrong that a news organization would take money for the truth. Just makes me question that News Organizations credibility and whether people will take them seriously if they can be bought,” Cafiero responded.
Hill continues to deflect accusations that he and township officials have grandiose plans to turn Downtown Toms River into a small city with 10 story apartment buildings, despite the plan being laid out by Toms River Township and Hill on the Toms River Township official website.