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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NOVEMBER 30, 2005
12:12 PM

CONTACT: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Bill Wolfe (609) 397-8213; Chas Offutt (202) 265-7337

 
Ethics Commission Rejects Developer Inside Information Probe
Pay-to-Play Politics Still Alive and Well in Trenton
 

TRENTON, New Jersey - November 30 - The Executive Commission on Ethical Standards has dismissed without explanation a complaint that New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell improperly gave confidential deliberative regulatory information to developer Joe Riggs, President of K. Hovnanian. As a consequence, there will be no sanction against Campbell for providing developers extremely valuable inside information about agency plans well before they were made public.

The request for ethics review was filed on July 5, 2005 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) concerning politically connected developers getting the inside track on stream classification decisions worth millions of dollars. On October 18, 2005, PEER expanded its initial ethics complaint based on Commissioner Campbell’s own remarks in press accounts, in which he admitted that he had used his regulatory powers to reward legislators and “drum up bipartisan support” despite the fact that, according to state regulations, these regulatory decisions are required to be based on science and water quality, not political considerations.

The Executive Commission on Ethical Standards is the state entity charged with enforcing New Jersey’s ethics laws. The ECES is composed primarily of Cabinet members of Acting Governor Richard Codey, including DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell (who did not participate in this decision).

The ECES dismissed the PEER request based upon staff recommendation. However, the staff investigator’s factual findings and recommendations were not disclosed, nor were they publicly discussed by the Commission, prior to introducing a resolution and voting to dismiss the matter. The ECES did not allow any public testimony or comment, before or after, their decision to dismiss the matter, as has not done so for 20 years, according to an email from ECES Executive Director, Rita Strmensky.

“No wonder New Jersey remains synonymous with political corruption; the state ethics watchdog is made of political appointees who do not hear evidence or explain their decisions,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that Acting Governor Codey’s order for “sweeping” ethics reform this past May appears to have had no effect. “If sunlight is the best disinfectant, then someone needs to pull the blinds wide open on this ethics commission.”

The dismissal by ECES appears to approve the practice by state officials of manipulating environmental regulations to reward political campaign contributors and for overtly partisan political reasons. As “PoliticsNJ.com,” the state’s premier political website points out, quoting lobbyist Alan Marcus –

“In New Jersey, you contribute money not for access but results. Anybody who doesn't admit that is lying."

“Despite promises to reform the Trenton ethical climate, pay-to-play and politics as usual are alive and well in New Jersey,” concluded Wolfe.

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