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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Company We Keep (or, Man, is This Trough Crowded!)

As the Courier Post reports here, Charles Kushner, a New Jersey real estate developer and bigtime political contributor, was charged by federal authorities today with hiring a prostitute to blackmail a close relative who was a potential witness in the federal probe against Kushner. Kushner paid $25,000 for the prostitute to seduce the man and videotape the tryst. He later had the tape sent to the man's wife shortly before a family party.

The latest charges came from an investigation by the feds into Kushner's powerful network of real estate, banking, and insurance businesses. Just last month, the Federal Election Commission imposed a $500,000 fine on Kushner for a series of violations of campaign finance laws.

So why is it that Kushner apparently believes himself to be beyond the law? Here are some possibilities:

1) New Jersey Governor James McGreevey:
-Kushner is McGreevey's biggest financial supporter. In two campaigns for governor, Kushner, his family and employees of his real estate companies gave McGreevey's various campaign funds roughly $1.5 million.
-Kushner donated $50,000 to an organization controlled by McGreevey to renovate the N.J. Governor's Mansion.
-Two former Kushner employees worked for McGreevey - one as his homeland security adviser, the other as his chief of staff.
-McGreevey named Kushner to the powerful and influential NY/NJ Port Authority, intending to make Kushner its head. (Kushner ended up resigning when the political winds blew sour.)

2) The Democratic Party:
-Kushner wrote out a $1 million check to the Democratic Party in late 2002, right before the soft-money ban took effect.
-Kushner helped raise big money for Senators Robert Torricelli, Hillary Clinton, Frank Lautenburg, and Jon Corzine, and for Bill Clinton, amongst others. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and Senator Joseph Lieberman all have made their way Kushner's office.

3) Spreading big bucks around:
-Kushner and his network of associates and business have given almost $6 million to candidates in New Jersey and around the country.
-Kushner contributed over $60,000 to Rudy Giuliani.

In essence, Kushner is New Jersey's own personal one-man Enron, a criminal juggernaut of big money and arrogance and greed stepping all over democracy in order to get the candidates and office-holders he wanted into office. When Kushner wanted a man in office, he paid the way. When he wanted a man's silence, he paid a prostitute to get it.

It's good that the federal authorities are bringing Kushner to justice. However, the fact that so many of our country's leading politicians, including our president and vice-president for cryin' out loud, made their way to this dirtbag's office in homage to the millions he gave them makes it very clear that we as Americans cannot trust our elected officials to carry out meaningful campaign reform.

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