The heavy iron boardwalk mallet that Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) dropped on the neck of the NJEA and FOP earlier today prompted at least one rival in the budding 2017 gubernatorial drama to call Sweeney heavy-handed.
“He should check the law first before calling for an investigation,” said veteran Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20), who has repeatedly told allies that he intends to run for the Democratic nomination for governor next year on a progressive platform.
“When we vote on legislation that will benefit us, that’s one thing, but if it benefits the entire class the same way, it’s not a bribe,” Lesniak said. “He should have checked the law. Look, I understand, he’s angry and he’s frustrated because he can’t get TTF [Transportation Trust Fund] passed.”
In his wars with the Elizabeth Board of Education, Lesniak sometimes found himself at odds with the NJEA, and undertook at one point an animated exploration of vouchers as an alternative to public schools. But overall “I do have a good relationship with them,” the senator said of the NJEA.
“My support for corporate tax credits for scholarships for private schools was an attempt to stop the closures of private schools which has been an increasing burden on public taxpayers,” Lesniak said. “25% of the students getting scholarships would keep 100% of the students from schools forced to close being paid for by taxpayers. Not the voucher system as an alternative to public schools. I’ve dropped it because my nuanced argument didn’t get any traction.”
“I think from a policy standpoint, we have a commitment to protect the pensions of public workers,” he added. “Whenever you make a commitment you should keep it. People not keeping their commitments is one of the reasons people have lost faith in public officials.”
For the record, Sweeney and his allies are citing the Hobbs Act in this case:
The Hobbs Act and Campaign Contributions. The Supreme Court has held that, when an allegedly corrupt payment masquerades as a campaign contribution, and when there is no evidence that the corpus of the “contribution” inured to the personal benefit of the public officer in question or was a product of force or duress, the Hobbs Act requires proof of a quid pro quo agreement between the contributor and the public officer. McCormick v. United States, 500 U.S. 257 (1991). However, the Court has also held that proof that a quid pro quo agreement existed in a corruption case brought under the Hobbs Act may be proven circumstantially. Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255 (1992). This interpretation of the dimensions of the hobbs Act in corruption scenarios is consistent with the parameters of the facts needed to prove the federal crimes of bribery and gratuities under 18 U.S.C. § 201. See United States v. Brewster, 50-6 F.2d 62 (D.C. Cir. 1972), 9 U.S.A.M. §§ 85.101 through 85.105, supra