Wisniewski bill seeks to fine governor for ethics violations

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Having tormented the Christie Administration with Bridgegate, Christie nemesis Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) sees another lapse and consequently wants to subject the governor to the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law by allowing the State Ethics Commission to impose fines for executive ethics violations.

Set for introduction on Thursday, Wisniewski’s bill comes amid questions surrounding gifts Christie received.

The assemblyman insists it’s not about this particular governor.

“The recent questions about the propriety of gifts have focused on Gov. Christie, and rightly so, but this isn’t about Gov. Christie,” said Wisniewski (D-19), co-chair of the Select Committee on Investigation (SCI). “In our representative government, it’s essential that every public official, including the governor, conduct themselves above reproach. Public officials, including the governor, must avoid conduct that violates the public trust or, at the very least, creates a justifiable impression that such trust is being violated. This bill, in the end, is just common sense.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) has another word for it: politics.

“The legislature has very weak disclosure requirements and the governor has said, you guys should have the same disclosure,” Bramnick said. “So if Wisniewski wants to do this, okay, let’s have a global discussion of the things that have come back to you.

“You want to talk about ethics, let’s talk about ethics,” he added. “What’s the matter with the other stuff? Now all of a sudden ethics is one dimensional. The governor has proposed ethics disclosure and the Democratic Legislature rejected it. Now they have clarity of vision when it comes to him [Christie]. His name is John Wisethics. It was Wizgate. Now it’s Wizethics.”

According to the Assembly Majority Office, Wisniewksi’s bill would subject the governor to the same ethics laws already covering legislators, state officers and employees; require the State Ethics Commission to prepare a code of ethics applicable to the governor and permit the State Ethics Commission to impose fines on the governor for violations.

Also, the bill rescinds Executive Order No. 77 of 2003 – which Gov. Christie has used to justify gifts – and makes clear the governor will not be able to alter by executive order any code of ethics or law that applies to the governor or to the staff of the office of the governor.

“We’re not breaking new ground here, to be honest,” Wisniewski said. “We’re subjecting the governor to the same rules as everyone else, which is the fair and right thing to do. The chief executive of New Jersey should not be playing by different rules than everyone else. That sets a bad example and opens the door to troubling questions that call into question whether the public trust is being violated.”

Under the bill, among other things:

·         No governor, shall accept from any person, whether directly or indirectly and whether by him or herself or through a spouse or any member of the family or through any partner or associate, any gift, favor, service, employment or offer of employment or any other thing of value that the governor knows or has reason to believe is offered with intent to influence the performance of public duties and responsibilities.

·         No governor may accept, directly or indirectly, any compensation, reward, employment, gift, honorarium or other thing of value from a lobbyist or governmental affairs agent totaling more than $250 in a calendar year. The $250 limit on acceptance of compensation, reward, gift, honorarium or other thing of value shall also apply to each member of the immediate family of the governor, as defined to be a spouse, child, parent, or sibling of the governor or member residing in the same household.

·         Any governor found guilty by the ethics commission of violating any provision of the law or a code of ethics shall be fined not less than $500 nor more than $10,000.

·         The governor and the staff of the governor’s office shall be subject to the provisions of the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law and to the jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission.  The governor shall not alter, by executive order, a code of ethics, or otherwise, any provision of that law or of any code of ethics promulgated thereunder by the State Ethics Commission that applies to the governor or to the staff of the office of the Governor.  The provisions of Executive Order No. 77 (McGreevey) of 2003, and the Code of Conduct for the Governor promulgated thereunder, shall be rescinded.

·         The executive director of the State Ethics Commission shall meet with the governor within 30 days after the governor takes office, and shall meet annually to inform the governor of the laws, regulations, codes, orders, procedures, advisory opinions and rulings concerning applicable ethical standards.

·          The commission shall prepare and ensure the distribution to the governor of a plain language ethics guide that provides a clear and concise summary of the laws, regulations, codes, orders, procedures, advisory opinions and rulings concerning ethical standards.

·          The governor shall certify that he or she has received the guide, reviewed it and understands its provisions.

Wisniewski bill seeks to fine governor for ethics violations