Who Are New Jersey Politicians Working For? (Hint: NOT YOU!) (UPDATED!)

Insider NJ's Jay Lassiter questions whether New Jersey politicians are working for the people who elected them or the special interests that fund their campaigns. He cites recent issues with Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt.

Being a politician is supposed to be about service. But exactly who’s getting served? Apparently dark money donors, lobbyists, corporations, and fellow politicians.

Murphy/Sweeney/Coughlin

We learned this week that a pro-Gov. Phil Murphy’s ‘dark money’ group called New Direction NJ raised and spent millions promoting a tax on NJ’s super rich. I support the Governor’s goals here because wealthy people have tons of tricks to shift their tax burden onto the rest of us. They should pay their fair share.

But I also support transparency and full disclosure about where all that money comes from.

NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin both have a dark money group supporting them as well.

Long story short, there’s a lot of dark money sloshing around New Jersey politics.

How does that sit with you?

Speaker Coughlin 

In addition to a supportive dark money group called “NJ United,” Speaker Craig Coughlin’s doing big business at his law firm, Rainone Coughlin Minchello, which raked in $3.6m from dozens of public, taxpayer-funded clients last year. That nearly doubled the firm’s 2017 tally, a meteoric rise for an outfit that’s barely 2 years old.

Coughlin’s partner Lou Rainone sees nothing wrong with an extremely politically connected law firm doubling it’s taxpayer-based income on an annual basis.

“I don’t think we have a client that’s there because Craig is the speaker,” Rainone told Politico.

The part of me wants to let those words speak for themselves was vetoed because of Mr Rainone’s lack of self-awareness . He actually thinks we’re naive enough to believe that political connections don’t matter.

Copy-n-Paste Legislation

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt is a South Jersey democratic machine loyalist with an enduring commitment to her county party, for better or worse. I’m a constituent in Lampitt’s legislative district so I’m kinda used to playing second fiddle to donors and party bosses.

Or is it third fiddle?

According to USA Today, Lampitt is among a crop of “legislators (who) agreed to carry copycat bills handed to them by companies, lobbyists and special interests seeking to write states’ laws in bulk.”

On thirty-six separate occasions, Assemblywoman Lampitt sponsored a bill that was crafted by someone with skin in the game. Alarmingly she’s not alone or even NJ’s worst offender. According to USA TODAY’s 2-year investigation into copy-n-paste legislation, at least 564 lobbyist-sponsored bills have been introduced in Trenton.

Only Mississippi outpaces NJ with 744 bills crafted by outside interests.

Especially prolific partakers in New Jersey include:

  • Anthony Bucco  38 bills
  • Troy Singleton 37 bills
  • John McKeon 37 bills
  • Pamela Lampitt 36 bills
  • Thomas Giblin 35 bills
  • Ronald Dancer 32  bills

NJ Senator Joe Lagana was highlighted for sponsoring legislation to require background checks on Uber and Lyft drivers, a sympathetic cause that shouldn’t be controversial. So why go with legislation that was written by the National Council of Insurance Legislators?

“The insurance companies, especially the national ones, State Farm, Allstate, who played a big role in helping come up with the framework, a lot of these companies now — it’s kind of become a national model.”

So industry insiders writing their own legislation and politicians who defend the practice as business as usual.

How is this even legal?

I’m here to lavish praise on anyone who sponsors taxpayer-friendly regulations for corporations and lobbyist writing their own rules.

Jay Lassiter is an award winning writer and podcaster who’s working to get politicians out of your bong. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Senator Lagana’s office reached out yesterday. His office felt my column lacked context, that it was more of a collaboration than a cut-n-paste situation. My colleagues from USA Today cited for this column were nominated for a major media award for their work in this topic. I’m comfortable with the original version but agreed to post Senator Lagana’s reply as a courtesy. 
 

“It was clear that ride-sharing’s innovative approach to transportation was in demand, but that the law had not caught up to the industry.” Senator Lagana told InsiderNJ. “There was no requirement for background checks or any insurance standards whatsoever when these companies began operating in New Jersey. We got to work on legislation and negotiated with all stakeholders having a seat at the table. I personally proposed better insurance standards and strongly advocated for minimum coverages that would protect everyone on our roads. In the end, the model that we developed was used as a starting point for discussions on this issue in State Houses across the country. I am proud of the work my staff, the Assembly Majority Office and OLS did to craft language that prioritized safety and stand by the transparent method in which it was done.”

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