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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

McGreevey Benefactor Kushner Pleads Guilty

Charles Kushner, a billionaire developer and the biggest benefactor of New Jersey's resigned-but-still-in-office Governor McGreevey, pled guilty today to eighteen separate charges. The charges range from claiming charitable gifts as business expenses to interfering with a federal investigation to using his employees' names to disguise illegal campaign contributions. Not to mention blackmailing his brother-in-law.

As explained in our July 14 post, Kushner and his employees gave some $1.5 million to McGreevey's various campaign funds, in addition to the millions of dollars he gave to the Democratic Party and mostly Democratic candidates. (Rudolph Giuliani stands out as one Republican who Kushner helped to bankroll - - to the tune of $60,000.) For previous illegal campaign contributions, Kushner was fined more than $500,000 by the Federal Election Commission this spring.

Kushner was able to exploit current New Jersey law, which allows individuals and corporations to give gubernatorial candidates $2600, by using the many different corporations under his control to make contributions. Even if such exploitation didn't exist, allowing corporations - who are ultimately owned by individuals, and who receive a number of legal protections and benefits which advantage them over individual people - to contribute to candidates is a bad idea. It grants those people whose interests are represented by corporations - more often than not the very wealthy in society - more say in selecting candidates for public office than the rest of us, who are already disadvantaged by the super-high contribution limits which allow wealthy individuals to give way more than we can afford.

New Jersey has a lot of options to clean up its democracy, which is good, because there is much work to be done. One such option is clean elections, where candidates who collect enough signatures and small donations agree to limit their campaign expenditures in return for receiving public money. On August 11, Governor McGreevey okayed a pilot program to test clean elections in a few districts. Even if the pilot program is successful and is adopted statewide in New Jersey, it will not necessarily guarantee regular folks their rightful voice in New Jersey politics, but it is a step in the right direction.

Kushner reportedly faces up to two years in prison, in addition to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

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