Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Monmouth County Bribery Sting

I'm a little late weighing in on this, following up on posts by Patrick at Jerseystyle, Mike at Sluggo Needs a Nap, Roberto at Dynamobuzz and Jim at Parkway Rest Stop, plus wall-to-wall coverage at PoliticsNJ.

Patrick points out that some gubernatorial candidates might want to make "adjustments" in their endorsement lists. Both John Murphy and Doug Forrester are afflicted by this problem. It'll be an interesting test of their character and commitment to see how they handle the situation. According to PoliticsNJ, "Nineteen days ago, Merla endorsed Doug Forrester for Governor. The Forrester campaign removed Merla's endorsement from their website within minutes of the story breaking." Forrester has made no statement on his site about the issue. John Murphy was endorsed by Hazlet Mayor Paul Coughlin; Murphy's team has removed Coughlin's name from the summary list, but did not try to re-write history by changing their original announcement. Interestingly, the link to that press release says "Hazlet officials back Murphy! Deputy Mayor and Committeewomen the latest to endorse John Murphy for Governor," but the actual article leads off with Coughlin.

Roberto takes the prize for best line of the night:
"They only bagged three mayors because the limit is no more than three per season. If you catch more than three, you have to throw them back."

Mike gets a close second: "Good lord, if they're taking down 11 pols in Monmouth county, when they get to Hudson they're going to have to open up another Guantanamo."

Jim is just plain disgusted. "In this case, all the FBI had to do was give these political hacks just a tiny whiff of payoff money and they hit the bait like hungry sharks."

Some consensus seems to be building amongst the Jersey bloggers that pay-to-play reform at the state level is a waste of time in the face of all this corruption, but I don't think that's the case. Take a look at these two details from Chris Christie's press release.

Example 1:

Merla sought money from the CW to cover costs of a political fundraising picnic, in exchange for Merla authorizing public work for the CW. Then, between December 2003 and February 2004, the CW performed two jobs that had been awarded by Keyport Township, a bulkhead removal and tree chipping. Merla allegedly accepted another $2,500 from the CW for steering the bulkhead project as well as other cash payments in connection with other projects.

Example 2:
Zambrano allegedly accepted a total of $5,000 in cash from the CW at a Sept. 30, 2003 meeting with Zambrano at a Tinton Falls restaurant - $3,500 for Zambrano and $1,500 for DeLisa ($500 of DeLisa's payment was for the purchase of tickets to a DeLisa fundraiser)
It's clear that there is a relationship between the legal and illegal exchanges of funds. Some of the politicians appear to feel a sense of entitlement to whatever money they can squeeze. By allowing legal transfers (such as the probably-legal purchase of fundraiser tickets), it presents the opportunity to obscure or even to conduct illegal transactions. As I wrote here, pay-to-play has got to go at all levels of government.

The opportunity for these "legal" donors to receive contracts influenced by their beneficiaries is just plain dumb. The federal government just convicted a former Air Force procurement official, and the former CFO of Boeing for just these kinds of shenanigans. If all men are created equal, then we should apply the law to all public officials equally. Chris Christie took a big step in that direction this morning.