If you grew up here, like me, then government corruption is just part of the landscape of New Jersey politics. We tend to normalize certain things, such our U.S. Senator being indicted on corruption charges and the Democratic establishment proudly signing on to say they are “with him.” Or the county bosses getting to decide who your legislators will be based on the power to award “the line” to their favored candidate (a power that has no basis in law).
This corruption costs us, the taxpayers, an enormous amount of money. How much is impossible to say, a conservative estimate might put it over $1 billion a year between the 565 municipalities, 599 school districts, 21 county governments, scores of local “redevelopment” and “economic” agencies, housing authorities, and all the executive branch agencies. Consider that in 2013 the state comptroller suggested that corruption in the public insurance industry alone wastes $200 million a year in taxpayer money. Add in pension schemes, pay-to-play, general waste, lost tax revenue, abuse of power, and all the other creative schemes politicians and their funders come up with and it’s easy to see how the money adds up quickly. It’s your money.
The craziest thing about this is that New Jersey has the strongest anti-corruption laws in the country. So what gives?
The corruption is self-perpetuating and the electoral system is the lynchpin. When a corrupt politician attains power, they use that power to further corruption, halt investigations, and shut down dissent. This can be seen in efforts to limit good government measures, such as repealing pay-to-play laws, rolling back the Open Public Records Act, or preventing an anti-corruption bill from even leaving committee in the legislature. The best way to tackle corruption is to have an election system that promotes competition, fair elections, and the ability for constituents to oust politicians that aren’t doing their job. That is why the electoral system must be addressed first and that is what New Jersey Awakens is doing with our five election reforms. We need a whole new legislature and a governor who will back up those reforms.
We are in the midst of building a campaign infrastructure to support all candidates running on the New Jersey Awakens platform. You will be getting an email later this week asking for your support and detailing our plan to proceed forward. I hope you will join us and I hope we can count on your support.
In the meantime, here are some more examples of blatant corruption from just the past few weeks:
- Yesterday, Paterson Mayor Jose Torres and 3 of his employees were indicted on corruption charges. He was elected to office after his predecessor pled guilty to corruption charges as well.
- Also in Paterson, the FBI is investigating a scheme whereby municipal workers accepted cash 0 bribes in exchange for letting a private company drop off tires without paying the required fees, which the taxpayers then had to pay instead.
- The day before that, David Samson, the former chair of the Port Authority and close associate of Chris Christie, was sentenced to probation for coercing an airline to reinstate an airline route he liked to fly, known as the “Chairman’s flight.”
- A former assemblyman from Bergen County was sentenced to 8 years in prison for using his position as an elected official to further a pyramid scheme.
And here is a detailed article on the story of Camden, where half of $1.1 billion invested “over half has gone to companies that the Norcross family has a financial interest in or have donated heavily to their campaigns.”