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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

City politicians face new financial disclosure deadline

Trenton's elected officials will no longer be able to hold off on filing financial disclosure forms for nearly a full year after being elected, after Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed bill S-103 into law this week.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, updates the state's Local Government Ethics Law to require all elected municipal officials to file financial disclosure forms within 30 days after being elected into office.

"Increased transparency in government is the key to gaining and maintaining public trust," said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, in a statement. "As elected officials, we have to be accountable to the people who put us in office, and that accountability needs to start immediately. Residents around the state work hard to earn an honest living, and they need to know their elected officials are doing the same. These taxpayers deserve nothing less from us."

Local government officers in New Jersey are required to file annual financial disclosure forms that list sources of income in excess of $2000, speaking or miscellaneous fees exceeding $250, gifts of more than $400, names of business interests, and pieces of real property.

Previously, an April 30 deadline was established for the filing of financial disclosure forms, but such a system failed to take into account the existence of municipalities like Trenton where municipal elections are held in May.

That situation made it so Trenton's elected officials could avoid filing their disclosure forms for nearly an entire year after taking office, but that situation has been eliminated with the passage of Sen. Weinber's bill.

For New Jersey, the new law is a good baby step towards increased accountability in New Jersey municipal government, but it was exactly that: a small step.

If Sen. Weinberg is serious about her commitment to increased transparency, she should stick to statements she made earlier this month calling on state legislators to work on comprehensive pay-to-play reform, which is something that has eluded the Democratically-controlled legislature.

1 comment:

westwrdguy57 said...

And a small step it is indeed, but any law that holds these politicians more accountable to their constituency is always a good thing. But it is not for nothing when a legislator does anything positive for us. They will remind us relentlessly at re-election time when all the mudslinging comes. This disclosure should have been law a long time ago. Ever once in a while someone in higher office throws us a few crumbs and takes them all back later, and then some. They treat people like we don't know what is best for us. One example is they preach what we can and cannot do inside of our own bought and paid for automobiles. Then sometimes one of them preachers know it alls what's best for us gets caught in his own lie, but only due to an accident caused by excess speed on the GSP.

They put off the bigger issues because this one affects their career. In NJ, one very big one is pay to play. Much talk of reform but so little change. Lower caps on contributions just do not go far enough.

Little progress has been made with New Jersey's pay to play reform which is the scourge of the entire political process of this country. New Jersey stands out as among the worse violators of the pay to play issue thus perpetuating an atmoshpere of negative public trust within our legal system.

The perception of pay to play is damaging. It is nothing but payroll padding. In many smaller communities I could see how risky it might be for anyone who happens into conflict while not on their good side. The widespread practice where large corporations give huge amounts of money to their favored candidate to gain favor with them stinks no matter what the law states the contribution limits are capped at.

Just the same, donations remain a necessary evil in politics. Much of it is unethical to the point of corrupting the entire electoral process. The practice can have the effect of alienating the voters from mainstream politics and invite more cynicism in our public institutions.

The pay to play culture has even infiltrated our public pension plans with regard to the selection of money managers. This is true in 17 states.

Pay to play is plain bribery and must be more seriously dealt with as it breeds a wide host of criminal activity evidenced by the increasing crimiinal convictions of those in all levels of politics.