On the road again, Christie pushes ethics

First grader Mason Torpey tells how he spent his summer vacation as Gov. Christie visits Cherry Hill's Sharp Elementary last week. (Tom Gralish/Philadelphia Inquirer)

UNION TWP. -- Gov. Christie returned to the town hall circuit today to hammer at Democrats on a topic he hasn't talked about in quite some time: ethics reform.

Christie stood in front of a poster displaying the number of days that have passed since he offered a package of ethics reform bill to the legislature (376). That's the same type of prop he used in his roving town halls earlier this year to push health and pension benefits reform.

The message underneath today's poster read: "DAYS OF ANYTHING BUT ETHICS REFORM"

Christie urged the crowd to email legislators to ask for ethics reform. "They'll have their extra-special listening ears on in the next few weeks because they want you to go to the ballot box and vote for them," Christie said, referring to the election for legislators in November.

The Assembly Democrats responded immediately with a statement: "Assembly Democrats who have adopted numerous ethics reforms throughout the years will not be lectured to by a governor who misuses taxpayer-paid property for personal and political use, travels covertly around the country raising money and fails to stand up to supporters who form secretive fundraising groups.” (That, of course, refers to this).

Christie's ethics proposals include:

  • More detailed annual financial disclosure statements for legislators and the executive branch.
  • A ban on dual office holding and dual public employment.
  • A "conflict of interest" standard for legislators, making recusal mandatory, not voluntary.
  • Prohibitions on convicted public officials collecting pensions and paying defense attorneys with campaign funds. "Seriously, who the hell disagrees with that?" Christie asked. "And it hasn't gotten a hearing, let alone a vote."
  • A ban on "wheeling" -- a legal practice used to hide pay-to-play donations by contractors and labor unions. The source of campaign donations are concealed and contribution limits can be exceeded when money is passed from one political account to the next, often at the direction of political bosses who gain clout by sending money throughout the state.
  • The inclusion of labor unions, which disproportionately fund Democrats, in the same pay-to-play rules that businesses face.
  • Establishing gubernatorial veto power over certain local authorities and boards, which have repeatedly been called out by Christie for ethics, transparancy and financial problems.

"I know it's really hard for many of you to believe we have any ethics problems to be dealt with in New Jersey," Christie said sarcastically. "But suspend your disbelief for a moment and understand that New Jersey has a history of these problems."