"What's black and white and read all over?"

Thursday, February 09, 2006
Posted 5:13 PM by

A failed experiment in better Democracy

Only two of 10 New Jersey candidates eligible for public financing for their campaigns last year actually met the qualifications and it still cost taxpayers $260,000.It looks like New Jersey is slowly moving toward public financing for state-wide campaigns, following flowery praise this week for a pilot program last year that fell far short of success.

The program offered candidates campaign money from the state treasury if they raised $20,000 from 1,500 donors in their district and agreed only to take contributions of $5 or $30.

The idea was to limit the influence of party bosses, special-interest groups and political committees, which can contribute up to $8,200 to a single candidate for office in New Jersey.

The program took place in two of the 40 legislative districts last year; 10 Assembly candidates participated. They were eligible for up to $130,000 in state funds, depending on the district. But only two of them eventually qualified for the money, meaning the failure cost taxpayers $260,000.

That doesn't seem to be deterring some from trying to make it a state-wide program, though.

"We cannot allow the difficulties the candidates faced to stop this program. We need to fix the details," said Assemblyman William E. Baroni Jr., R-Middlesex and Mercer counties, a member of of the bipartisan New Jersey Citizens' Clean Elections Commission.

The commission suggested 18 changes this week at a press conference, including giving candidates more time to raise the small donations, reduce the number of required contributions, and providing a single contribution amount. The panel plans to issue proposed legislation in May.

"It's a public investment in cleaning up a culture of corruption," Baroni said.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Posted 5:55 PM by

Aloha Habay

So long baby face. Jeff Habay is to report to a half-way house within 30 days for having his staff stuff campaign envelopes on state time. Ironically, he got the mailing list from PennDOT, but was never charged with misusing that information.State Rep. Jeff Habay on Wednesday resigned from the Legislature and was sentenced to six months to one year in a halfway house for making his staff do campaign work on state time.

Habay, 39, apologized in court Wednesday for claiming his conviction was the result of a political witch hunt. But Judge Jeffrey Manning called Habay's claims that he was targeted because of politics "an egregious lack of remorse."

The six-term Republican lawmaker from Allegheny County was convicted Dec. 12 on a charge of conflict of interest.

Habay had his staff stuff envelopes for his re-election campaign when they were supposed to be doing work for constituents on state time. Ironically, he got the mailing list from the state Department of Transportation, but was never charged with misusing that information.

There was little to no mention of the common Harrisburg practice of having legislative staffers man House and Senate campaign committees after their public hours are done. In the course of their day jobs, though, staffers have access to all kinds of sensitive information about constituents - not just PennDOT records - which can also be used for "opponent research," what President Richard Nixon used to call rat fucking.

"He wrote the (the state ethics) law, he violated the law and was convicted of it," Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek said. "You'd think at some point in time he'd realize that. He still doesn't realize it."

Here's the really funny part. Despite his conviction and sentence, Habay will remain eligible for a state pension because conflict of interest is not an offense under the forfeiture section of the state law governing state employees

A second trial for Habay, on charges he intimidated witnesses and made a false anthrax report to police, is scheduled to begin Monday.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Posted 5:47 PM by

Isn't it ironic

First he was against a lobbyist reform bill, now State House Speaker John M. Perzel is for it so as long as a hand-picked group of lawmakers and jurists write it - which is what scares a reform group.Sometimes you just have to sit back and let the news come to you. Read on and you'll see why I find this bit of news so funny, sad and interesting.

Common Cause of Pennsylvania, a government watchdog group, said it suspects state legislative leaders and state Supreme Court justices may have improperly swapped financial support for the court system in exchange for a favorable court ruling in legislative pay-raise cases.

Its Pennsylvania chapter included the "unsavory" allegations Monday in a revised version of a federal lawsuit it filed in October regarding the constitutionality of a July law that gave pay raises to people in all three branches of government.

For several years, Common Cause has known of claims that Supreme Court justices "may have been trading outcomes on court decisions in exchange for legislative leaders producing desired outcomes on court-related legislation," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania.

J. Scot Chadwick, a former Republican state representative from Bradford County, said Monday he did consult with court officials about the 1999 legislation, but he called the meeting informational, not a quid-pro-quo negotiation.

So, these folks a bunch of conspiracy kooks? Hardly. As a reporter, I've known Kauffman for years. He and his slightly conservative but reform-minded group are after one thing and one thing only - Better government.

Here's the funny payoff: State House Speaker John M. Perzel, R-Philadelphia, told reporters at a Capitol news conference Tuesday that a committee of lawmakers appointed by the Legislature and former justices picked by the state Supreme Court will be formed to draft a lobbyist-disclosure bill that can withstand a constitutional challenge.

Pennsylvania is currently the only state in the nation without a law requiring lobbyists to report how much they spend to influence public policy.

Perzel was originally against such a bill, but acknowledged that pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers and newspaper editorials was fueling the movement.


Monday, February 06, 2006
Posted 4:50 PM by

Who's gouging whom now?

Gas gouging seem to only be helping New Jersey lawyers and investigators, not the people who got fleeced this summer.New Jersey settled its second gas gouging case Monday from last summer's pumphikeapalooza and its nice to know that despite a change in administrations, the public is still getting fleeced.

Much like the first case, which was settled against BP in the last week of Gov. Richard Codey's administration for $315,000 in fines, Philadelphia-based Sunoco Inc. will give the state $325,000 to make its charges go away without admitting any wrong doing.

Of Sunoco's money, just $50,000 will go to the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance program to help low-income residents pay their heating bills. The rest will be used to "reimburse state and county investigative and legal costs."

All of the BP money was used to cover probe costs too, which begs the question, how much money is Gov. John Corzine and the state paying somebody to watch a gas station change its prices and to have a lawyer argue a case to settlement?

Aren't there are a battery of lawyers and officers on the state's payroll already who can do that work instead of handing more than 90 percent of the money raised to outside folks.

Finally, how is the public benefitting from any of this if none of the gas companies are forced to admit they gouged consumers and are able to keep their huge profits? I gues crime pays on both sides of the law.


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