August 19, 2004

The Jersey Political Swamp – How it Works.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 9:51 pm

Jim McGreevey’s resignation and decision to stay in Drumthwacket until November 15th, no matter what the consequences to the state, or to us sorry asses who live and pay taxes here, has caused much of the crap that is New Jersey politics to float to the top of muck for all of us see. The entire mess has made New Jersey a national joke.

Nevertheless, I would like to publicly thank Jim McGreevey, because, but for the latest disgraces, I would not have taken the time to see how truly rotten-to-the-core the political system in this state is. I have lived here all my life, and I am embarrassed to say that it was not until the last few days that I fully appreciated the extent to which we are being royally screwed by the unholy alliance that exists among our state legislature, the governor and a handful of well-moneyed political bosses.

You (especially if you live in Jersey) absolutely have to read “How Many NJ Legislators Exploit the System.” The information was originally published about a year ago, although I have absolutely no reason to believe that it remains anything other than an accurate description of the current state of affairs in Trenton. The reader can see how our “representatives” (of both parties) have constructed and/or have benefited from a legislative scheme in which financial disclosure is a joke, nepotism is the rule rather than the exception, and conflicts of interest are relegated to little bits of scrap paper. You will have to bookmark the site, because there is too much information for one sitting, and more than fifteen or twenty minutes of reading will be hazardous to your health.

Here are a few snippets:

Behind the scenes, powerful unelected political bosses from the Democratic and Republican parties — many of them beneficiaries of millions of dollars in government contracts — work to re-elect their legislative allies and maintain the status quo in Trenton. These bosses raise multimillion-dollar campaign war chests for state legislators.

Nepotism is not only legal in New Jersey, it is practiced by almost one in five lawmakers who have put family members on their payrolls. For example, Democratic Assemblyman Gary L. Guear of Mercer County hired his wife to a $55,000-a-year job to run his district office. Nepotism is banned in Congress and 19 states.

Lawmakers operate almost free of ethical scrutiny because there are virtually no laws to prevent conflicts of interest in the state Senate or Assembly. A member who could profit from a bill can absolve himself by simply sending a note to the secretary of the chamber saying he can still cast a fair vote. All the notes are tucked away in paper files in Trenton, which are beyond the reach of public inspection by all but the most determined voters. The lawmakers’ own ethics oversight committee has been called a “damage-control” board by its former chairman.

The public financial disclosure forms lawmakers are supposed to fill out each year are so vague they get an “F” from the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit government watchdog group. The forms, approved by the Legislature, are riddled with loopholes that allow members to hide their business clients — and even the names of spouses on the public payroll.

With regard to the joke that is Jersey’s Financial Disclosure Law, be sure to check out the left side of the site under “Personal Disclosures.” In order to get a real flavor for just how “seriously” our elected representatives take the issue of financial disclosure, I recommend that you go here and take a look at the form submitted by state senator Raymond Lesniak (see District 20).

It is time to drain the Swamp.

But, how? Surely, the well-entrenched beneficiaries of the putrid system will not step to the front of the line to change things. I’m not even sure that genuine “reform candidates” could get it done (assuming that such candidates could ever be elected, given the current Swamp Rules).

Maybe we’ll have to turn to the feds.

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