TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie today unveiled a series of ethics reform measures intended to promote accountability and maintain the integrity of office holders and employees and the electoral process at all level of government.
The ethics plan released today represents the first specific policy proposals of a broader initiative to reform New Jersey. Additional reforms to address the areas of pension and benefits, economic development and job creation, and education are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
Among the proposals advanced today by Christie during a Town Hall meeting in Raritan Township:
• Omnibus 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.
• A comprehensive legislative reform 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 bill also restricts the practice of “wheeling,” or the transfer of political donations to circumvent campaign financing laws.
“Ethics reform in New Jersey has been a patchwork of half measures that failed to be fair and uniform, left gaping loopholes for special interests to maneuver through and fell far short of what the public demands,” Christie said. “These measures are about good, open and honest government, where the playing field is level for everyone and the rules are unambiguous.”
A day after his inauguration, Christie signed an executive order which limited political donations by labor unions that had contracts with the state, saying that unions should be subject to the same restrictions as corporations or individual donors. That executive order was overturned in-part by a state appeals court which — without passing judgment on the intent of the executive order — said legislation would be required to enact the restrictions.
“This is undeniably a matter of important public policy,” Christie said. “This pay-to-play reform package strengthens New Jersey’s existing laws to protect the integrity of our electoral process in a way that preserves the public’s confidence in the system. Special interests should not be in a position of deciding elections by flooding the political process with money.”
The pay-to-play reform proposal also restricts the practice of “wheeling,” by eliminating many of the exemptions on contribution limits for county or municipal political committees. The proposal – which has strong supported from the Election Law Enforcement Commission – would curtail the unlimited transfer of campaign money between committees and from committees to candidates in different parts of the state, which can unfairly impact local races.
Furthermore, the governor’s pay to play reforms address the “Fair and Open Contract” exception by extending pay to play requirements to contributions made to legislators and county or local elected officials. Under the proposal, if a business makes a reportable contribution to any of those individuals, the business cannot receive a contract in excess of $17,500 — as the law currently applies only to political contributions to a governor.
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