We live in a State where, literally, hundreds of public officials have been charged with state and federal crimes over the last four years.
Every time some public official or employee takes a bribe, we all suffer. The corrupt politician, the dirty cop, the fund-skimming school official all betray our public trust. As taxpayers and as citizens, we should be outraged. We in government must do more than feel outrage. We must take action.
Either we stand up against corruption, or we don’t. I know where I stand. Who is with me?
Almost a year ago, I introduced S-67, a bill to help fight corruption. That bill would impose mandatory prison terms and deny pensions to all public officials who get convicted of betraying their public trust by committing corrupt acts. The members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I serve as Chairman, reviewed the bill, then voted for it.
The bill specifies that conviction for any one of 19 job-related offenses including criminal coercion, commercial bribery, perjury, money laundering, theft by extortion, official misconduct and 13 other crimes would cost public officials their pensions and send them to jail.
Senator Ellen Karcher (D.Monmouth,) is with me. She has risked her life to stand up to corruption. At great personal peril, she assisted the FBI and federal prosecutors in catching and convicting a conspiracy of bribe-taking local officials. We need more people in government who think and act like Senator Karcher, standing up against corruption. That’s why I am proud that she is a co-sponsor of S-67
New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner is with me. In an October 27th letter to me, Attorney General Rabner praised S-67 as “a significant anti-corruption measure.” Attorney General Rabner gets it. He knows the corrosive effect corruption has on public trust in government. He has spent his career in public service prosecuting and convicting corrupt officials.
Attorney General Rabner publicly stated that pension forfeiture and mandatory sentences, with certain limited exceptions, can serve as powerful deterrents. Those deterrents might help us avoid the acts of bribery, extortion, and fund-skimming that recur throughout New Jersey, at every level of government..
Now, in light of what happened last week, I consider what Attorney General Rabner didn’t say in his assessment of S-67 to be very significant. He didn’t suggest that we should set up a two-tiered system of penalties for elected and non-elected public officials. He never urged me to amend out the mandatory sentences and loss of pensions for career public officials who get involved in corruption.
The Attorney General clearly believes that mandatory sentences and loss of pensions as penalties for all corrupt officials –elected and non-elected – will help the state and federal efforts to fight against New Jersey’s plague of bribery and extortion by people in every level of public life.
But sadly, our efforts to deter and to punish public corruption took a serious blow this month as part of an unanticipated political twist.
My pension forfeiture bill became part of a broad measure to reform public employee benefits. The reform proposal emerged from the work of four special joint legislative committees offering ways to reduce property taxes.
Unfortunately, prospects for the proposal’s passage collapsed when the Governor’s Office insisted upon removing the sentencing provisions for public employees who are members of public employee union. That decision was and remains a staggering mistake.
The entire provision concerning loss of pensions and mandatory jail terms for public corruption then was withdrawn from the stalled omnibus bill on public worker reforms when legal questions surfaced about disparate penalties for elected and non-elected public officials.
These developments are outrageous and clearly unacceptable. It is absurd to have different corruption penalties, including jail time and pension forfeiture, depending upon whether or not the corrupt official is or is not in a union.
We need to pass my original bill on mandatory sentences and loss of pensions for all public officials convicted of corruption charges. New Jersey taxpayers need confidence in the guardians of their money.
As we look ahead, there’s really no better way to start the New Year than by making a clear and unequivocal statement that we’re fed up with public corruption and we’re not going to take it anymore.
Penalties should be the same for all public officials. Public integrity should always be non-negotiable.
I know where I stand.
State Senator John H. Adler represents the 6th District, which includes parts of Camden County. The senator serves as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Public School Funding Reform, and as a member of the Senate Environment Committee.