11 Jun 2019
The two mainstays of New Jersey politics, Governor Phil Murphy and power broker George Norcross III, are both very wealthy and have used their enormous wealth to secure political power. They are proof that Jesse Unruh, the powerful former speaker of the California assembly, was right when he said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.
Phil Murphy is the governor for one reason and one reason only. He largely self-financed his Democratic primary campaign to the tune of $ 22.5 million. Much of his largesse went to Democratic County County Committees.
Governor Murphy isn’t the first Democratic megamillionaire to spend his money, like a drunken sailor, to get high public office in New Jersey or other states. Murphy Goldman Sachs alumnus Jon Corzine spent $ 131 million on his campaign for the New Jersey Senate seat and his two campaigns for governor. Murphy and Corzine both bought their seats.
It’s important to point out that there is nothing in New Jersey electoral law that prevents the super rich from spending huge sums of their own money trying to get elected. Most recently, Bob Hugins spent $ 36 million of his own money in an attempt to defeat Senator Menendez.
Murphy and Corzine both lacked any grassroots political background. They were not educated in the vagaries of New Jersey politics and it showed that both seemed to lack the ability to build legislative coalitions and forge strong personal bonds with the electorate.
New Jersey voters from both political parties need to send a strong and clear message that they are not going to continue supporting candidates who lack practical political experience and who buy their support by paying for the party apparatus. The message needs to go to mega-millionaires who want to run for public office, that they need to dramatically tone your initial election expectations.
Business leaders shouldn’t expect their first foray into politics to be as a senator or governor of the United States. There are 565 municipalities and several levels of government in New Jersey to delve into elective politics
George Norcross is often considered New Jersey’s most powerful unelected public servant. Former state senator and ethics champion William E. Schluter wrote in Soft Corruption that Norcross “used its fundraising abilities to gain patronage power in order to gain the allegiance of the government and party officials. Norcross influence dominates four county governments in southern New Jersey. . . who collectively spend more than $ 500 million in public taxes each year and create more than 5,800 jobs. And, because of his influence over who is elected, he commands the loyalty of the twenty Democratic lawmakers who represent the districts of southern Jersey. “
According to Alex Law, in an article titled “The Untold Tragedy of Camden, NJ” in Huffpost Politics, Norcross’s power is “based on a very old and simple concept: Pay-to-Play. If you want to do business in Norcross territory, you must donate to their politicians, PACs and charities. Depending on how much you give and how little you resist their wishes, you can earn lucrative government contracts and partnerships. Business is done, the Norcross machine gets its share, democracy is rampantly stifled, and any complaint or resistance is crushed by threats of employment 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 made headlines due to an investigation launched by a task force appointed by Governor Murphy of the NJ Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) Tax Incentive Program. The investigation was sparked by a report released by the state comptroller who found serious problems with the oversight of the tax relief program. Of the $ 4.4 billion in tax incentives provided by the EDA statewide, two-thirds of the $ 1.6 billion in tax incentives that went to Camden went to companies linked to Norcross and / or his brother Philip’s law firm.
It is too early to tell if Norcross or anyone associated with it did anything wrong by getting the tax credits. Businesses seeking tax credits had to prove that they were considering moving jobs out of state and that they had a bona fide alternative that was appropriate and available out of state. Let’s see what the paper trail says?
For decades, George Norcross deftly used his knowledge of government and his connections to earn huge sums of money with government. Many of the services provided by its businesses fall under the professional services category and are not required to be competitively tendered.
The Norcross pay-to-play business model of using political logins and campaign contributions to secure business is not illegal, unless you can find an explicit consideration. This is, however, unfair and unethical to the public and those who cannot afford to purchase access. For this reason, voters should avoid candidates who take a lot of money from the Norcross political machine.