How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Money and New Jersey Politics

The two kingpins of New Jersey politics, Governor Phil Murphy and power broker George Norcross III, are both very rich and have used their enormous wealth to secure political power. They are evidence that Jesse Unruh, the former powerful Speaker of the California Assembly, got it right when he said: “Money is the mother’s milk of politic.”

Phil Murphy is the Governor for one reason and one reason only. He very heavily self-financed his Democratic primary campaign to the tune of $22.5 million. Much of his largess went to county Democratic County Committees.

Governor Murphy is not the first Democratic mega-millionaire to spend his money, like a drunken sailor, to secure high public office in New Jersey or other states. Murphy’s fellow Goldman Sachs alumni, Jon Corzine, spent $131 million in his campaign for the New Jersey Senate seat and his two campaigns for Governor. Both Murphy and Corzine bought their seats.

It is important to point out that there is nothing in New Jersey election law that precludes the super rich from spending massive amounts of their own money to try and get elected. Most recently, Bob Hugins spent $36 million of his own money trying to defeat Senator Menendez.

Murphy and Corzine both lacked any kind of grass roots political experience. They were not schooled in the rough and tumble of New Jersey politics and it showed as both seemed to lack the ability to build legislative coalitions and to forge strong personal bonds with the electorate.

New Jersey voters of both political parties need to send a loud and clear message that they are not going to continue to support candidates who are devoid of practical political experience and who buy support by paying off the party apparatus. The message needs to go out to the mega-millionaires who want to run for public offices that they need to dramatically tone done your initial electoral expectations.

Business leaders should not expect their first foray into politics to be as U.S. Senator or the Governor. There are 565 municipalities and multiple tiers of government in New Jersey to dip your toe into elective politics

George Norcross is frequently referred to as the most powerful unelected official in New Jersey. Former State Senator and ethics champion, William E. Schluter, wrote in Soft Corruption that Norcross “leveraged his fund-raising abilities to acquire patronage power to gain the allegiance of government and party officials. The Norcross influence dominates four county governments in southern New Jersey . . . which together spent more than $500 million in public tax money each year and provide more than 5,800 jobs. And, by virtue of his influence over who is elected, he commands the loyalty of the twenty Democratic legislators who represent South Jersey districts.”

According to Alex Law, in an article entitled “The Untold Tragedy of Comden, NJ” in the Huffpost Politics, Norcross’s power is “based on a very old, simple concept: Pay-to-Play. If you want to do business on Norcross turf, you are expected to donate to their politicians, PACs, and charities. Depending on how much you give and how little you resist their wishes, you can earn yourself lucrative government contracts and partnerships. Business gets done, the Norcross machine gets their cut, democracy is rampantly stifled, and any complaints or resistance are crushed with employment threats or other bullying.” It should be pointed out that Law was decimated in a primary race for Congress against Donald Norcross, George’s brother by a 70% to 30% margin.

Recently, George Norcross has been in the news because of an investigation launched by a Task Force appointed by Governor Murphy of NJ Economic Development Authority’s (NJEDA) tax incentive program. The investigation was prompted by report issued by the state controller that found serious problems with the oversight of the tax break program. Of the $4.4 billion in tax incentives provided by EDA statewide, two-thirds of the $1.6 in tax incentives that went to Camden was given to companies linked to Norcross and/or the law firm of his brother Philip.

It is too early to tell whether Norcross or anyone associated with him did anything wrong in securing the tax credits. Companies seeking tax credits needed to prove that they were considering moving jobs out of the state and they had a bona fide, suitable and available out-of-state alternative available. Let’s see what the paper trail says?
For decades George Norcross has adroitly used his knowledge of government and his connections to make enormous amounts of money from government. Many of the services provided by his companies fall within the rubric of professional services and are not required to be competitively bid.

The Norcross pay-to play business model of using political connections and campaign contributions to secure business is not illegal unless you can not find an explicit quid pro quo. It is, however, unfair and unethical to the public and those who can’t afford to buy access. For that reasons, voters should shy away from candidates who take significant money from the Norcross political machine.