Monday, August 3, 2009

NJ enviros climb onto political corruption issue

There's nothing hotter in New Jersey this summer than the federal corruption investigation which has led to the arrest of 44 public officials and the resignations of an State Assemblyman, two mayors and a member of the governor's cabinet.

On the heels of the story, several state environmental groups today announced the formation of CleanGreenNJ, declaring:

"A common thread in the latest wave of indictments of NJ public officials is how developers are able to get what they want through a shadow system of campaign contributions, political connections, and outright bribery."

The new coalition demands that the governor and state legislature:

+ Investigate DEP operations and enforce ethics rules
+ Empower DEP whistleblowers
+ Bring transparency for citizen watchdogs
+ Fix the campaign finance system and prohibit legislators from receiving outside sources of income
+ Rein in recent developer initiatives

Sure sounds high-minded. But, a skeptic attuned to Jersey's enviro-political undercurrents, might question if something a bit more fishy isn't going on here.

The lengthy recitation of corruption charges filed by the FBI (rabbi money-laundering and body-parts-marketing aside) focused on payoffs for zoning and permit favors at the local level. The only references to the state DEP involved two Assemblymen who offered their briber (an FBI accomplice) only vague assurances that they "knew people" at the DEP who could help move permits along.

Charges of boasts by guys eager to line their pockets nonetheless has led to CleanGreenNJ's unqualified declaration today that:

"... DEP was directly involved in the bribery scheme, (emphasis added) restore public confidence and trust in the integrity of the agency, an independent investigation must be initiated to determine what happened and how pervasive the problems are. "

Hold on just a second. How did the enviros make the astonishing leap from a pol's assertion that he "knew the right guys" at the DEP to the agency being "directly involved in the bribery scheme"?

We must assume that CleanGreenNJ is privy to details of the federal investigations that have not yet been revealed to the rest of us.

So, in their next press release, we trust the coalition will disclose:

Who specifically at the DEP was involved?
What did they do to advance their bribers' plans?
Did the DEP insiders earn a piece of bribe?
Or did they simply participate in the interest of advancing sprawl?

And why oh why, we wonder, do we need some new investigation to sort things out?

New Jersey has an entire building filled with investigators. It's called the Attorney General's Office. Why hasn't CleanGreenNJ brought its proof of direct DEP involvement there?

No, we suspect that this anti-corruption rant may be prompted by an agenda that's a bit less civic-minded and a bit more self-serving.

Please go back and take a closer look at CleanGreenNJ's five main demands above.

Now eliminate:

# 1 - Investige the DEP (which the AG's Offic is perfectly qualified to handle), and
# 4 - Fixing campaign financing (which has nothing to do with the DEP)

What's left?

#2 - Empower DEP whistleblowers
#3 - Bring transparency for citizen watchdogs, and
#5 - Rein in recent developer initiatives

When you blow away the smoke, the demands begin to look less like concern over political corruption and more like an opportunity to gain greater influence of their own over the DEP.

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comment box below. If you don't see one, click on the tiny 'comment' line which should activate the box. Signed comments are encouraged but anonymous submissions also are accepted.

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