“Gov. Chris Christie presented a tough ethics package Wednesday that has the potential to pull the state’s moldy political culture into the sunshine for a good disinfecting.
Getting this done will be difficult. Democrats who want to preserve their power and their ability to enrich themselves through public office will push back, as they did when Gov. Jon Corzine proposed some of the same reforms.
And Christie, unfortunately, has undermined his own credibility on ethics by supporting a shady political fund that solicits large donations from secret donors. That does violence to the principle behind several of these reforms. If you’re looking for a morally pure combatant in this fight, you won’t find one.
Still, on balance, this package is a good one. Christie would finally ban the practice of holding two elected positions, a uniquely New Jersey custom that allows legislators to build political machines at home while raking in extra money and benefits.
The Legislature banned the practice several years ago, sort of. But in a striking show of chutzpah, it exempted all sitting legislators. Only new kids would have to play by the cleaner rules. Christie wants to put a stop to that hypocrisy.
The governor would also take the next obvious step and ban office holders from holding any second government job. Again, Democrats are likely to push back. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver works as a deputy administrator for Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. Her majority leader, Assemblyman Joe Cryan, works as an undersheriff in Union County.
Imagine for a moment that Oliver or Cryan skipped work on sunny days. Would they get in trouble? Imagine that they ask for pay raises or promotions. Would their bosses treat them like everyone else?
On campaign finance, Christie wants to strengthen pay-to-play laws that ban big political contributions from companies doing business with the state government. He would expand that prohibition to the local level, where insider dealing is often endemic.
Sadly, the governor has squandered his credibility on this issue. Earlier this year, his closest allies established Reform Jersey Now and began soliciting secret donations to support the governor’s agenda. The money is undoubtedly coming from special interests groups seeking Christie’s favor — exactly what the pay-to-play laws are designed to combat. That is a gift to Democrats who want to resist reform.
Christie’s plan also has useful new disclosure rules to help expose legislators who use their public office to enrich themselves, or to push special deals for their employers and friends. A step forward, no doubt.
Let’s hope the governor and the Legislature keep a lid on their mutual hostility and try to get something done. This plan is a good start.”
This article appeared in the New Jersey Star Ledger.