Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What's that sound? Ethics reform dying in New Jersey?

What happened to Chris Christie, ethics reformer extraordinaire? Has he gone soft since he took office?

What's that sound? Ethics reform dying in New Jersey?


Sometimes, Blinq needs to refer readers elsewhere for edification. Today is one of those days, so I'll be sending you briefly to the Star-Ledger of Newark to peruse this must-read by my columizing colleague, Tom Moran.

If only our papers could have paired Moran's piece, about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie risking his ethics-enforcing rep on an Essex County mover-shaker with my Sunday column lamenting the virtual silence in both states on matters of electoral reform.

In my piece, I point out that Christie made his name on cleaning up Garden State politics, but hasn't been as focused on the issue since he took the state's highest office. Moran, meanwhile, shows that the governor has chosen to stand by Essex County mahoff Joe DiVincenzo, a walking, talking, Super Bowl trip-taking example of the double-dipping and high-on-the-hog living voters (and Christie) supposedly abhor.

Essex is not burdened by pesky rules on clean campaigns, Moran writes. DiVincenzo is free to grant a public contract to a lawyer, say, and then ask that same lawyer for a campaign donation. Bingo, he’s covered another trip to Puerto Rico, airfare included.

For those who know DiVincenzo, none of this comes as a shock. This is the guy who collects a $59,000 pension on top of his big salary, and he hasn’t retired yet. He knows the angles.

The surprise came when Gov. Chris Christie was asked about this at a recent news conference, and he chose to defend DiVincenzo, a key Democratic ally.

“If, in fact, what they are doing is moving forward on their political agenda, then that’s appropriate,” the governor said, later adding this doozy: “If they’re operating within the current law, then they’re operating within the current law."

If you listened hard, you could hear the final nail being pounded into the coffin of ethics reform during the Christie years.

Moran goes on to remind readers why this sound is the political equivalent of Elvira's nails being dragged across a chalkboard.

Christie is New Jersey’s only hope on ethics reform. Famous for his undefeated string of corruption convictions, he brought a busload of federal prosecutors with him to Trenton. And he presented a strong package of ethics reforms almost immediately.

The Democrats have ignored it. Turns out they like to have two government jobs, they like to keep their finances under wraps and they don’t want any do-gooder campaign finance rules that might deprive their political machines of needed cash.

So if the governor goes wobbly, too, there really is no hope.

Say what? The cops who take home $200,000 in unused sick pay are operating within the law, and so were the teachers who refused to accept a pay freeze. He didn’t have any problem pounding them into dust.

It’s sad, really, that Christie has squandered his natural advantage on the issue. The first big blow came when he solicited secret donations to Reform Jersey Now, an outfit run by his closest allies. When the donors’ names were finally revealed, a number of state contractors were on the list.

He squandered more of his mojo when he lambasted the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for its patronage habits, but was moot when similar charges were made against the Elizabeth Board of Education, a political ally of his.

Christie’s hypocrisy on this gives Democrats safe haven. When the governor proposes limits on campaign spending by unions, for example, they can point to the money he raised for Reform Jersey Now.

I could go on, but you get the picture. And as always in this state, it isn't pretty.

-- Monica Yant Kinney

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About this blog
Blinq is a news commentary blog featuring contributions from Inquirer Metro columnists Kevin Riordan and Daniel Rubin.

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