TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senator Ellen Karcher which would protect public resources from corruption by prohibiting public entities from making campaign contributions, increasing penalties for misuse of public resources and providing a mechanism to reclaim lost funds due to corruption were unanimously approved by the Assembly today, and now go to the Governor to be signed into law.
“New Jersey’s honest, hard-working taxpayers deserve a government that’s free of ethical lapses and wasted public funds,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer, a leading watchdog for ethics reform in the State Legislature. “They deserve elected representatives who serve as honest, ethical stewards of the public trust. These bills would go a long way to restoring integrity in the system, by penalizing corrupt politicians, prohibiting unethical behavior and calling for a higher standard from government.”
Senator Karcher’s first bill, S-222, sponsored with Senator Barbara Buono, would prohibit any State or local public agencies from contributing to a candidate for elective public office or to any candidate committee, joint candidates committee, or any political party committee. The bill also prohibits a candidate or committee from accepting any such contribution. The bill defines “public agencies” broadly, to include every State or local governmental entity, including institutions for higher education. The bill also stipulates that anyone who willfully violates the bill’s provisions would be liable for a fine of up to $200,000, depending on the size of the contribution, and any violator who holds an elective public office may be required to forfeit that office.
“New Jersey’s taxpayers are among the hardest hit in the nation, and we need to do more to ensure that public resources are dispensed responsibly,” said Senator Karcher. “The idea that public entities could use taxpayer dollars to contribute to the pay-to-play culture which has tarnished elected service in New Jersey is simply galling, particularly to those of us who are working so hard to eliminate pay-to-play in other aspects of government spending.”
Senator Karcher’s second bill, S-1192, sponsored with Senate Judiciary Chair, Senator John Adler, D-Cherry Hill, would create the crime of corruption of public resources, and would impose criminal penalties for misrepresentation of facts for the purpose of obtaining public resources. The bill would make it a crime to knowingly misuse public grants, loans, assets or property for purposes other than the intended governmental purpose, and would establish a graduated penalty setup, depending on the value of the resource, and the intended purpose.
“New Jersey’s public resources are strained, and we need to safeguard our limited resources from fraud and abuse,” said Senator Karcher. “When a public official or someone in the public trust diverts funds or other resources from their original purpose, that should carry criminal penalties.”
The third bill, S-1318, would allow the Attorney General to seek monetary penalties against certain persons convicted of public corruption crimes. The bill would allow the Attorney General or county prosecutor to seek a “public corruption profiteering penalty,” for any public official found guilty of a host of corruption crimes, including, but not limited to: fraud, false contract payment claims, improper influence of public office, retaliation or receipt of bribe or other unlawful benefit. The penalty, which would be reimbursed to the public entity that had been defrauded due to public corruption, would be in addition to any other penalties the person may face because of public corruption.
“I’ve seen firsthand the havoc that public corruption can cause in a community,” said Senator Karcher. “I fought in my hometown of Marlboro against entrenched public corruption, and lamented when the taxpayers were forced to foot the bill for land deals paid for through bribery and political favoritism. The public needs a mechanism to reclaim lost funds from those who’ve been found guilty of abusing the public trust.”
The first bill, S-222, was approved in the Senate in February. The other two bills in the package, S-1192 and S-1318, were approved in the Senate in March.