Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Embattled Ethics Commission Confirms Samson Probe Underway

In an unusually stormy meeting, the embattled state Ethics Commission placated union critics by taking the unusual step of confirming that it is investigating former Port Authority Chairman David Samson and by dropping a five-year-old ethics complaint against a state union leader. But the panel also sided with the governor's office by issuing a ruling that would bar a prominent environmentalist voting on a controversial Pinelands pipeline represented by Samson's law firm.

Embattled Ethics Commission Confirms Samson Probe Underway

File: Gov. Christie greets Bill Baroni (right), deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and David Samson, authority chairman, (center) at a 2011 transportation conference. (AP/File photo)
File: Gov. Christie greets Bill Baroni (right), deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and David Samson, authority chairman, (center) at a 2011 transportation conference. (AP/File photo)

In an unusually stormy meeting, the embattled state Ethics Commission placated union critics by taking the unusual step of confirming that it is investigating former Port Authority Chairman David Samson and by dropping a five-year-old ethics complaint against a state union leader. But the panel also sided with the governor’s office by issuing a ruling that would bar a prominent environmentalist voting on a controversial Pinelands pipeline represented by Samson’s law firm.

For Ethics Commission Chairman Andrew Berns, the media scrutiny and the testy exchanges with leaders of the Working Families Alliance coalition and the red-shirted Communications Workers of America union that marked yesterday’s meeting were an unwelcome change from years of quiet commission sessions attended by a respectful lawyer or two.

“There has never been a suggestion prior to the last 45 days in my three-and-a-half years that any of my staff or commissioners do anything but treat every case individually,” Berns insisted, bristling with displeasure. “They don’t look at the political persuasion of the people making the complaints or the people being complained about.”

It was actually 50 days ago that the Working Families Alliance filed ethics complaints against Samson, Christie’s trusted political adviser, spurring renewed questions about the commission’s independence and ability to investigate Christie administration wrongdoing. The conflict-of-interest allegations against Samson, which are also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Manhattan, came in the wake of a series of Ethics Commission controversies:

  • An Ethics Commission ruling issued in early January at the request of the governor’s office that barred Edward Lloyd, an environmentalist serving on the Pinelands Commission, from casting what was expected to be a critical vote on an application to build a 22-mile gas pipeline through the Pinelands preserve. Despite Lloyd’s recusal, the pipeline failed to win approval in a 7-7 tie vote that marked a rare defeat for the Christie administration.
More coverage
 
Oversight panel hears common refrain: Take politics out of port authority
 
New Christie associates called to testify

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