New Jersey gets a ‘D’ for integrity, and Christie’s office blamed
Three years ago, the Center for Public Integrity reviewed several systems of government in place in every state, and gave New Jersey a grade of “B+” — the highest of any state in the nation. But times have changed.
The center has just released its newest State Integrity Investigation, and New Jersey scored a grade of “D” which drops the state to 19th highest in the nation.
“The lion’s share of the drop in New Jersey can be traced for a large part right to the governor’s office,” said Ian Shearn, the author of the New Jersey report.
He says the Garden State has very good public records laws but “one place where the governor’s office got a whopping F was in public disclosure.”
Shearn says there has been a “huge logjam” of public records requests, but the governor’s office has fought to have them not released, and has actually been forced to pay out more than $400,000 in cases that have been lost.
He points out for his first term, Gov. Chris Christie was very popular.
“Then what happened that dramatically changed this dynamic was Bridgegate, all of a sudden there is more scrutiny into the governor and less deference. That was the critical turning point in the perception of Chris Christie," Shearn said.
The report also criticizes Christie’s decisions to take lavish trips overseas, to the Super Bowl and to Texas to watch the Dallas Cowboys football team, and have others pay for all expenses and it questions how his administration handled billions of Superstorm Sandy relief fund disbursements.
“After Christie won reelection, despite his promise of transparency he was just the opposite, and was less than candid with the people of New Jersey and the press," Shearn said. "The New Jersey governor as you know is the most powerful state level position in the country and he’s used it masterfully but sometimes he took it a little too far."
The report looked at several areas and reviewed how well they are deterring corruption in New Jersey state government, and for each one a grade was assigned:
- Public Access to Information: F
- Political Financing: D
- Electoral Oversight: F
- Executive Accountability: F
- Legislative Accountability: D
- Judicial Accountability: F
- State Budget Processes: B-
- State Civil Service Management: C
- Procurement: C
- Internal Auditing: B-
- Lobbying Disclosure: C
- Ethics Enforcement Agencies: D-
- State Pension Fund Management: C+
A spokesman for the governor’s office says in an email that the report was written with strong negative bias and no factual basis was used to review a wide range of criteria used to formulate the poor grades given to the state.
I“We objected to the strong bias demonstrated by the individual assigned to make the evaluation, and this result simply validates those expressed concerns," the email states. "No factual basis was provided for the drop in rank or the findings offered, except for a vague reference to ‘different’ criteria which we believe renders the comparison invalid.”
He adds the perspective of the governor’s office was not included, and the authors merely sought out well known critics of the administration to form their conclusions, rather than any objective observers.