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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Garden State Governor's Race A Tangle of Conflicts

As Tom Hester Jr. reports in The Trenton Times, New Jersey Democrats are clamoring for the Department of Banking and Insurance to investigate whether Republican gubernatorial candidate and multi-millionaire Doug Forrester violated state law prohibiting insurance company owners from contributing money to state campaigns. Forrester, owner of Heartland Fidelity Insurance, has contributed millions to his own candidacy.

On the other side, Republicans are raising a stink over Democratic gubernatorial candidate and multi-millionaire Jon Corzine's loan of $470,000 (since forgiven) to his former girlfriend, Carla Katz, who just happens to president of the state's biggest public employee union. As Governor, Corzine will have to negotiate with Katz's union on many issues.

Corzine has also come under fire for investing some $7 million in a casino. New Jersey law generally prohibits governors from owning stakes in gambling operations. Corzine is also financing his campaign with his fortune.

Both sides are doing everything they can to portray their opponents as self-serving rich guys whose investments create irreparable conflicts of interest. This task is not a difficult one.

The bigger conflict is with New Jersey's law, which favors candidates who are either wealthy or who have wealthy support, and democracy. While the parties argue about which candidate is richer and which candidate is more conflicted (ai, ai, ai . . . !), regular folks in New Jersey are left on the sidelines and shut out of the discourse.

What neither side is doing is talking about a solution to this mess that would allow the people of New Jersey to select their governor from a group of candidates that isn't 100% rich white guys. Reasonable contribution limits that level the playing field for regular folks to take part in the process, combined with either a spending limit or public financing for candidates that run against self-financing rich folks, would put regular folks in New Jersey back in charge of their government.

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