New Jersey Battles Public Corruption
In an effort to clean up its legendary statewide political corruption, New Jersey lawmakers have approved several measures that will raise penalties for public officials, lengthen the statute of limitations for crimes and mandate ethics training for legislators.
The state’s Assembly Judiciary Committee and Senate have already approved three important new anti-corruption laws and other legislative bodies are expected to follow. Among the top new measures is imposing civil penalties of up to $500,000 for public officials convicted of corruption charges.
The other two laws extend the statute of limitations from five to seven years for serious corruption charges and create a new crime called corruption of public resources for those who legally secure government funds but don’t use them properly.
Evidently lawmakers finally want to improve the image of a state where politics have for decades been infested with conflicts of interest, raids on public treasuries and corrupt relationships between public officials and donors or businesses.
One theory on New Jersey’s ongoing rampant political corruption is that the state’s constitution gives the governor too much power as the state’s only elected official. In most states voters elect top state officials such as the attorney general, treasurer, county prosecutors and judges but in New Jersey the governor appoints them all.
Recent New Jersey scandals include a former governor (James McGreevey) who admitted hiring his unqualified gay lover as the state’s Homeland Security expert, a longtime and influential state senator (John Lynch) convicted for accepting bribes and a state attorney general who co-chaired the governor’s ethics advisory committee and resigned both posts after admitting her own ethics laws violations.
Incidentally, the current governor (Jon Corzine) recently admitted showering a girlfriend with expensive gifts and cash even though the woman is a union head for state employees negotiating a contract with the governor’s administration. The state’s ethics commission decided not to investigate after the two members of a special advisory panel – both appointed by the governor himself – advised against it.