Friday, August 21, 2009

Is Chris Christie really going to fight corruption?

November 3rd sees New Jersey's general election, in which the people will get to choose between keeping incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, or ousting him in favor of Republican candidate Chris Christie.

Christie and the Republicans are launching an aggressive campaign to overthrow Corzine - largely based on the promise of 'stopping corruption in its tracks.'

On his website,, the corpulent candidate highlights his three step plan to reform the New Jersey legislature:
  • Eliminate the Legislature’s conflicts of interest
  • Eliminate loopholes to strengthen laws banning 'pay to play'
  • Demand greater transparency and accountability in government
Ironically, though, some argue that appeal to 'battle corruption' flies in the face of precedents Chris Christie has set during his own political career. Is he really the man New Jersey can trust?

Chris Christie is most famous for his career as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey - a position he was nominated for by fellow Republican George W. Bush.

During his six years in office, he successfully prosecuted 130 public officials (both Republican and Democrat) for corruption - never losing a single case. He was also the man who set the groundwork for last month's astonishing corruption arrests.

But Christie's also demonstrated blatent favoritism to friends and political allies during his time in office - making a mockery of his 'desire' to end 'conflicts of interest' and 'pay to play' in NJ.

For example, as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Chris Christie awarded a multi-million dollar contract to former U.S. Attorney David Kelley, without allowing any competiting bids.

Coincidentally, David Kelley had recently investigated Corzine's own brother, Todd Christie, for financial fraud - and declined to prosecute him despite Todd being ranked the fourth most significant suspect in the allegation (and the three higher ranking suspects - and the eleven below Christie - all facing charges in court.)

Was the multi-million dollar contract a pay-off for letting his brother off the hook?

Christie was similarly criticized in 2007, when he awarded another no-bid contract - worth over $50 million - to former boss and political ally John Ashcroft. The House Judiciary Committee even began hearings on the matter - but Christie was conveniently bailed out when the Bush administration rewrote the rules on such appointments before testimony was called.

The U.S. Justice Department wasn't so forgiving when Chris Christie negotiated with pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb over their $311 million fraud settlement. Christie deferred criminal prosecution in exchange for the company dedicated $5 million to his old alma mater. The Justice Department later wrote specific guidelines forbidding such practices as a result of Christie's decision.

In the lead up to his gubernatorial campaign, Christie's been hit once more with accusations of 'cronyism' - awarding a lucrative federal monitering contract to a company that has donated $23,800 to his election campaign (earning him $47,600 in public finance matching funds.)

So serious are these allegations that Christie himself was hauled in front of a congressional panel in June to explain his blatent favoritism. After being peppered with questions for two and a half hours, a visibly frustrated Christie stormed out of the hearing with his entourage in tow.
“It is very telling that Christie got up and walked out as he began to be questioned about the multimillion-dollar, no-bid contract given to the former U.S. attorney that refused to charge his brother,” said New Jersey Democratic chairman Joseph Cryan.

“If Christie tried to answer for all the other multimillion-dollar, no-bid contracts he gave out to friends, he would have been testifying until Election Day, and none of his statements would have matched.”
In short, while Chris Christie talks big about ending corruption in New Jersey, his record tells a starkly different story. Blantant cronyism, political machinations and questionable ethics are all simply part and parcel of the way this former U.S. Attorney conducts his business.

Perhaps in New Jersey, the 'Soprano state', such activities are simply par for the course. But I find his promise of 'ending corruption' leaving a rather unpleasent taste in my mouth.


John Lee said...

I would be very interested in having you guest blog this piece on my blog - with a link to your blog of course. (I also retweeted your post so you can also find me on twitter) Cheers!

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GlobalPublic said...

Perhaps we should start asking questions about the big picture...

Do we need a Referendum For A New Democracy?

Are you concerned about the future of democracy? Do you feel democracy is under attack by extreme greed in countries around the world? Are you sick and tired of: living in fear, corporate greed, growing police state, government for the rich, working more but having less?

Can we use both elections and random selection (in the way we select government officials) to rid democracy of undue influence by extreme wealth and wealth-dominated mass media campaigns?

The world's first democracy (Athenian democracy, 600 B.C.) used both elections and random selection. Even Aristotle (the co-founder of Western thought) promoted the use random selection as the best way to protect democracy. The idea of randomly selecting (after screening) juries remains from Athenian democracy, but not randomly selecting (after screening) government officials. Why is it used only for individual justice and not also for social justice? Who wins from that? ...the extremely wealthy?

What is the best way to combine elections and random selection to protect democracy in today's world? Can we use elections as the way to screen candidates, and random selection as the way to do the final selection? Who wins from that? ...the people?