News

Congress Passes New Ethics and Lobbying Reforms

Progress has been made on some of the reforms called for in the PCDO's "Promoting Higher Ethical Standards in Politics and Clean Government Reform" platform as the Senate followed the House in passing a package of reform measures by an overwhelming majority on Aug. 2.  Lobbysists will be banned from paying for travel expenses or meals or gifts for lawmakers.  The interval before former Senators can lobby Congress has been doubled to two years; however, the interval remains at one year for Congressmen.  Lobbyists would be required to disclose "bundles" of campaign contributions that exceed $15K in a 6 month period.  Earmarks and their sponsors would have to be publicly disclosed.   Conspiculously missing from the reform package was the establishment of any independent Congressional watchdogs.  For more detailed information on the new reforms--and their limitations--see The New York Times, Aug. 3, p. 1. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/03/washington/03lobby.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Russ Weiss
Co-chair, Government Reform Committee

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Impeachment Program on Channel 30

If you missed the June 10 Impeachment Forum, you will have another chance next week if you live in Princeton Borough or Township. Channel 30, the local Access channel will be running a film version six times:
  • Friday 7/13 at 2 AM (really Saturday)
  • Sunday 7/15 at 11:30 AM
  • Monday 7/16 1:00 PM,
  • Tuesday 7/17 at 10:00 PM
  • Thursday 7/19 at 5 PM.
For more information contact Mary Ellen Marino at 921-6002.

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NJ Assembly Passes Limited Ban of Dual Office-holding

One of the reforms called for in the PCDO's "Promoting Higher Ethical Standards in Politics and Clean Government Reform" platform is "Banning Dual Office Holding". There have been some recent developments in the NJ Assembly that I wanted to note by excerpting coverage from a couple of local newspapers: "A ban on holding more than one elected office was approved by the Assembly Monday, despite concerns from many lawmakers - including the measure's main sponsor - that the restriction is not strong enough.

The sticking point was a provision that allows all current dual-office holders, as well as those who may hold two offices by February, to continue holding multiple jobs as long as voters keep re-electing them.

The bill's prime sponsor, Assemblyman Michael J. Panter, D-Monmouth, said the first bill he introduced upon joining the Assembly in 2004 was a strict ban that would have forced politicians to relinquish a second office. He called the current measure a compromise that will lead to the dismantling of dual-office holding.

"I am no longer willing, as someone who has been a critic of dual-office holding, to wait another three and a half years for a perfect bill," Panter said.

Republicans argued the measure creates a favored group of those in power and tried to sway Democrats to ban the practice immediately with no grandfather clause.

....

The strongest argument for the grandfather clause came from Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union, chairman of the New Jersey Democratic Party, who said forcing someone to give up an elected office would be un-American and an insult to the voters who placed that person in two positions.

"Let's not be holier-than-thou. ... Let's have an understanding that people have a vote in this country, that their vote counts," said Cryan. He later added, "Who is anybody in this house to take away the rights of the ballot box? It's un-American."

The bill passed 69-3 with eight abstentions. It still needs Senate approval before it can be sent to Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who has demanded a ban before he signs this year's budget. He has criticized the measure but said he would sign it because it makes progress."

Asbury Park Press, 6/12/07 http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007706120445

"...there are still 19 members of the Legislature who simultaneously hold multiple offices. Not content to let an act of virtue go unmolested, Assembly members did insert a provision that will allow those 19 to continue holding both offices until they step down or are defeated.... Allowing people to hold two offices at once virtually guarantees conflicts of interest. One of state government's chief functions is deciding how to distribute grants and other funds to county and local governments. In an ideal world, legislators weigh competing claims in the name of the greater good. But if a member of an influential legislative committee also happens to be the mayor of a particular town well, you can finish the script from there."

Cranford Chronicle, 6/14/07 http://www.nj.com/chronicle/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-0/118185281737310.xml&coll=17

The Senate is expected to consider a ban later this month. If you'd like to make your views known on improving the Assembly version of the legislation, contact Sen. Turner. (609) 530-3277 or http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/RepEmail.asp.

Russ Weiss
Co-chair, Government Reform Committee

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"Pay to Play" Reform Odinance for Service Providers Unanimously Adopted by Township

The first of a pair of pay to play reform ordinances proposed to both Princeton municipalities by the PCDO was adopted unanimously by the Township Committee on June 11. This ordinance provides for both open disclosure of and maximum caps on campaign contributions by professional service providers, e.g., consultants, banks, law and insurance firms. This ordinance is also being considered by the Borough.  The second ordinance, which focuses on pay to play reform in the context of property development, is currently under consideration by both municipalities.

Russ Weiss

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House Passes Lobbyist Reform Measure

After some foot-dragging, suspense, and pressure from good government advocates (including the PCDO), the House passed a reform measure late last week that requires lobbyists to disclose the campaign contributions they "bundle"--that is, collect and deliver--to lawmakers and their political action committees. (Among the more influential and infamous lobbyist bundlers was one Jack Abramoff.)

The bundling reform does indicate forward progess in the Congressional reform effort, although much remains to be accomplished. For example, these two reform measures have met strong resistance, including among Democratic representatives, and thier prospects currently appear dubious:

  • Extending the ban on "revolving door" lobbying by former lawmakers to two years after they have left office. Determined resistance from some members looking forward to moving on someday to big paychecks as Washington lobbysists has already forced the leadership to drop this reform for now.
  • Creating an outside independent watchdog to monitor the compliance of House members to ethics rules.

The single most effective way to insulate government from the corrosive effects of lobbyists and other influence peddlers, is public campaign financing of Congressional elections. There is a "gold standard" bill out there--the Fair Elections Now Act--that I'd urge you to take a look at http://ga3.org/campaign/fairelectionsnow/833w7wsrfet8d8m?

and consider becoming a citizen co-sponsor.

Russ Weiss
Co-chair,
Government Reform Committee


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Pay to Play Reform Ordinances Presented to Princeton Governments

Update: Ordinance has passed in the Township.
The two pay to play reform ordinances--one covering contractors and the other developers-- crafted by Marvin Reed and based on model ordinances created by the Citizen Campaign and were officially submitted to the Township Committee this past Monday and the Borough Council on Tuesday by Marvin, Jenny Crumiller, and Russ Weiss. The general platform on "Promoting Higher Ethical Standards in Politics and Clean Government Reforms" developed by our Government Ethics Committee and endorsed by the general membership was also presented to the two municipal governing bodies. The Township Committee gave the reform ordinances to the Township attorney to review with the expectation that they will introduce the ordinances next month. Borough Mayor Trotman stated that the ordinances would be placed on the Council's agenda at a later date.
An article in the April 27 issue of The Princeton Packet, "Princeton Democrats introduce pay-to-play regs" (p. 2A) reports on our efforts.
Russ Weiss
Co-chair,
Government Reform Committee
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