NJ Working Families: Ethics Complaint Against Members Of The Senate EDA Investigative Committee

Organizations representing consumers, communities, families, small businesses, immigrants, environmental advocacy, and workers from dozens of fields and industries sign letter urging the NJ legislature to pass a millionaire’s tax either as part of Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed 2020 state budget or separately as its own piece of legislation.

New Jersey Working Families on Friday filed a formal ethics complaint against four of the seven members of the panel appointed by Senate President Steve Sweeney to investigate the unfolding scandal at the Economic Development Authority.

A simple Google search turned up numerous financial and political ties between committee members and George Norcross — who, needless to say, is at the center of the investigation. In one example, Chairman Bob Smith’s law firm is employed by a joint insurance fund administered by a Conner Strong affiliate.

Without further commentary, here’s the full text of the letter we submitted to the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards:

 

The Hon. John J. Harper

Vice Chair The Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards

New Jersey Statehouse

125 W. State Street Trenton, NJ 08608

June 21, 2019

Dear Judge Harper:

We are writing to file an ethics complaint concerning a conflict, or appearance of conflict, that several members of the Senate Select Committee on Economic Growth Strategies, which has been tasked with investigating the state’s economic incentive programs.

A recent report released by an independent task force convened by Governor Murphy raised serious questions about the drafting and implementation of the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, the legislation that authorized these tax incentive programs. Specifically, they raised questions about the roles a series of entities connected to George E. Norcross III played in the writing of the law and in applications for hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax credits.

We would respectfully request that the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics Standards (JLCES) investigate whether several Senators are violating the Legislative Code of Ethics rules 2:1a; 2:1b; 2:9; and 2:14c relating to the intersections between the Senators’ private income and their ability to objectively investigate companies or entities related to Mr. Norcross.

A majority of the Senators on this Committee have these conflicts.

We are raising these questions now because the Committee is scheduled to have its first meeting on Monday, and we are concerned that these conflicts will impair the public’s right to have a full and impartial accounting of a program that has promised more than $11 billion in tax incentives to companies across our state.

Specifically:

Senator Bob Smith. Senator Smith serves as Chairman of the Select Committee. Senator Smith’s law firm, Bob Smith & Associates, serves as counsel to the Central Jersey Joint Insurance Fund, according to publicly available meeting minutes available on the organization’s website. This organization provides pooled insurance and risk management services to several government entities. It is administered by PERMA Risk Management Services. PERMA is an affiliate of Conner Strong & Buckelew, the insurance brokerage firm where Mr. Norcross serves as Executive Chairman.

In its role as administrator, PERMA is responsible for overseeing legal work conducted by Senator Smith’s firm. This represents a clear conflict of interest. Senator Smith cannot possibly be expected to oversee an impartial investigation into a tax incentive program where one of the major beneficiaries is Mr. Norcross and companies tied to him, including Conner Strong, which has been promised $86 million in tax credits.

Senator Joseph Lagana. Senator Lagana is a partner at the law firm of Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo. Senator Lagana’s law firm has been retained by the South Bergen Joint Insurance Fund, according to meeting minutes publicly available on the entity’s website.

The South Bergen Joint Insurance Fund is administered by PERMA.

Additionally, according to publicly available Election Law Enforcement Commission documents, the General Majority PAC spent $393,741 on election activity to support Senator Lagana and his running mates in their campaign in the 38th Legislative District in 2015. The General Majority PAC is closely tied to Mr. Norcross.

This double conflict means that Senator Lagana’s law firm financially benefits from a Conner Strong-administered entity and that the Senator’s political career has received substantial monetary support from a Norcross-related super PAC.

Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez. Senator Cruz-Perez’ livelihood is derived from the Norcross-led Camden County Democratic machine. The Senator serves as Director of Constituent Services in Camden County. Camden County is at the center of the unfolding scandal over the Economic Development Authority and the tax credit incentive programs.

At the same time, Camden County leadership has come out strongly in support of the tax incentive program and against any effective oversight. Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, the Senator’s superior, is close political allies with Mr. Norcross and has even publicly attacked the Governor for authorizing an investigation into the EDA.

Given these ties, it would be inappropriate for the Senator to oversee an investigation into the tax credit program.

Senator Bob Singer. Senator Singer sits on the board of the Ocean County Joint Insurance Fund. The Fund, according to records publicly available on the entity’s website, is administered by PERMA. In that role, Senator Singer is responsible for overseeing the work of a Conner Strong affiliate.

Given these ties, Senator Singer may have a vested interest in shielding Mr. Norcross and Conner Strong from any damaging inquiries because they would raise questions about his own oversight role at the Ocean County JIF.

Furthermore, Senator Singer’s employer, RWJBarnabas, is chaired by an individual, Jack Morris, who has close ties to Mr. Norcross.

Senator Dawn Addiego. Senator Addiego is the beneficiary of legislation pushed by Senate President Sweeney that significantly benefited her pension. This legislation was backed by Mr. Norcross. Given these ties, it is difficult to believe that Senator Addiego could act as an independent voice on the committee.

Please note that we have addressed this letter to you, as opposed to the Chairman, because even the Chairman of the JLCES, is deeply connected to the Norcross political machine. He is employed at the law firm of Brown and Connery, which serves as Mr. Norcross’ personal law firm and represents him in matters concerning the EDA scandal.

We also reserve the right to supplement this complaint with information we are currently collecting under the Open Public Records Act.

Given the serious allegations raised in this complaint, we ask you to immediately launch a full investigation.

Sincerely,

New Jersey Working Families

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