By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
Atlantic City’s Council President and political boss Craig Callaway pled guilty to taking $36,000 in bribes from a local building contractor.? Two weeks later, Middlesex County boss and ex-state senate leader John Lynch pled guilty to taking bribes from a contractor.? Both contractors wanted and permits and contracts to develop public parkland.
Jim Whelan, the newly elected Democrat Assemblyman from Atlantic County to said he was upset by the bad publicity from these corruption cases.?? But Jim Whelan was elected last year with a $3 million campaign fund from Democrat Camden County boss George Norcross.??? Right after his election, Whelan supported nearly $2 billion in tax hikes, with about $400 million going for “Christmas tree” spending items that paid back big campaign donors around the state.??? A big chunk of this money went to Camden County folks who bankrolled Whelan’s campaign.
The Republicans who ran against Whelan were no better.?? They received one million dollars that also came from people who expected a return on their “investment”.???? And Atlantic County Republicans Gormley and Blee voted for the same tax hikes and spending items as Democrat Whelan.
?Is a public official a criminal when he pockets a bribe for a government favor, but a “smart politician” if he deposits the bribe in his campaign fund??? If this is true, then the only mistake made by Callaway and Lynch was that they failed to properly launder their payoffs.?? Why couldn’t they just put the money in their campaign fund, win the election, and vote themselves a big pay hike?? Or hire some relatives on their legislative staff?? Why couldn’t they use the money to get re-elected, and then support legislation sponsored by other officials, and let the other officials return the favor???? Or transfer some of the payoff to the campaign fund of Candidate B, and then let Candidate B’s friends return the favor in some way.??? The possibilities are endless, and these possibilities have already taken place all over New Jersey.? Even if these gimmicks were crimes, you would need an army of prosecutors and investigators to unravel the mess.
This is not what our founders had in mind when they fought a revolution to create this county.?? Our Declaration of Independence declared that we are all created equal with certain “unalienable rights”, and that our government was instituted to secure those rights.
Our Federal and State Constitutions made those principles the supreme law in New Jersey.?? Article I, Section 1 of our New Jersey Constitution states that “All persons” have certain natural and unalienable rights, including the right to “acquire, possess, and protect property”.?? The Fourteenth Amendment of? our Federal Constitution states that?no state may deny to any person the ?equal protection of the laws?.
Jim Whelan and all New Jersey legislators took a solemn oath to support those words of our constitutions to the best of their abilities.
How can they take their oaths seriously, and then give special permits, special licenses, special tax breaks, and special treatment to people who give big donations to their campaigns?
The only way to end political corruption in New Jersey is to again believe in a nation “with liberty and justice for all”.? Every law, every rule, every regulation, and every tax should apply equally to everyone all the time.??? Every time we make an exception, we create an opportunity for corruption.
If taxes are so high that people are losing their homes, cut spending to cut taxes for everyone.?? When you allow special abatements, rebates, and exemptions to a handful of people with “juice”,?you create a class that no longer cares about government spending, and you open the door to corruption.
Are the zoning or environmental rules so strict that nobody can get a permit to build anything???? Don’t give a variance to the big developers with the high priced lawyers.?? Don’t create?special redevelopment zones for big campaign contributors.?? Don’t “grandfather”?bad uses that don’t belong in a neighborhood.? (The first “grandfather clause” allowed illiterate southern whites could vote without taking an impossible literacy test that was reserved for blacks.)?? Change the rules so that everyone in the zone has the same opportunity to build or improve their properties!
In short, to stop politicians from selling favors, don’t give them too many favors to sell!