Thursday, September 23, 2004

One Small Step for Most States, One Giant Step for New Jersey

As Laura Mansnerus reports in The New York Times, Governor James McGreevey issued an executive order prohibiting state contracts from being awarded to contributors to gubernatorial candidates or state or county political committees. The order includes contributions from owners with a stake of 10% or greater in a business and 527 committees controlled by a business or its owners.

New Jersey is notorious for its pay-to-play political system, in which the state's unusually high contribution limits have allowed wealthy interests an extraordinary influence over legislation and the awarding of public contracts. An individual can give a candidate committee "only" $2200, that individual can give a political party committee $7200, a state political party or legislative leadership committee $25,000, and a county political party committee a staggering $37,000.

No small wonder that county party bosses have had a huge influence over the political process in Jersey, nor that they were some of the staunchest opponents to campaign finance reform in the state.

What should not get lost in the collective gasp coming from the nation's most densely populated state is that wealthy interests still can take advantage of New Jersey's skyhigh contribution limits to elect candidates to office who share their agenda. State contracts may no longer be for sale, but the legislature and governor's office sure will be.

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