Gov. Chris Christie on Monday urged the Democratic-controlled Legislature to act on ethics legislation he has proposed last September.
It was last September when the governor outlined his agenda to overhaul state ethics laws to “provide the high standards of integrity the people of New Jersey deserve at all levels of government.”
Christie said Democrats in the Legislature have failed to act on his proposals, including what State Comptroller Matthew Boxer last week called the “fatal flaw” loopholes in current pay-to-play laws, dual office holding, legislative disclosure of conflicts of interest, the practice of “wheeling” in campaign financing, and pension collection from elected officials who abuse the public trust.
“New Jerseyans deserve government with integrity that they can have faith in and be proud of,” the governor said. “New Jersey’s ethics laws remain a patchwork of ineffective half measures and loopholes that fail to apply a uniform standard of rules of conduct for all levels of government in our state.
“It has been no fewer than 376 days since I delivered a package of real, rigorous ethics reform for the Legislature to act upon,” Christie said. “The Legislature and its Democratic leadership have failed to take action on these proposals to strengthen the public trust. Excuses and inaction are unacceptable. It is time for them to act on these reforms, even if greater transparency and accountability makes some members uncomfortable.”
“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,” Assembly Democratic spokesman Tom Hester Jr. said.
On Sept. 8, 2010, Christie put forward what he described as a far-reaching, fair and tough package of ethics reforms, including a specific proposal to eliminate the “fair and open” loophole in the state’s pay-to-play law cited by the comptroller’s report.
The proposals include:
- A legislative package which imposes a uniform standard for awarding contracts at all levels and branches of government in New Jersey, and expands the reach of the pay-to-play law to make public labor unions subject to the same contribution and disclosure obligations as other entities doing business with the state. The proposal also restricts the practice of “wheeling,” or the transfer of political donations to circumvent campaign financing laws.
- Ethics legislation which ends dual government employment and dual office holding, requires forfeiture of pensions by convicted public officials, prohibits use of campaign funds for criminal defense costs, and redefines conflict of interest for legislators by making recusal mandatory for direct financial conflict (no more self-evaluation to determine whether the member “feels” there is or is not a conflict) and strict disclosure of legislative conflicts of interest.
At the same time the governor conditionally vetoed legislation (A-2768) to strengthen financial disclosure and to require the Legislature and its senior staff to file the same financial disclosure statements required of the executive branch. The original bill sought only to prevent the governor and state Ethics Commission from extending the filing deadline for financial disclosure statements.
Christie said the Legislature has also failed to take up the conditional veto that would subject themselves to the same disclosures already in place covering the executive branch.
On March 16, Christie went further with proposals to strengthen checks on the various authorities, boards and commissions that comprise New Jersey’s “shadow government” and collectively oversee over billions of dollars in public funds. The “Shadow Government Reform” legislation would subject those agencies to gubernatorial veto. The Legislature has not considered the proposal.
– TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM