Monday, November 8, 2010

State Commission of Investigation in the Cross-Hairs Again.

Ted Sherman of the Star Ledger reports that "some" are suggesting that the State Commission of Investigation has outlived its time. Yes, the SCI was central in investigating organized crime, especially in Atlantic City. But that was 40 years ago, which has lead "some" (including Dem. Sen. Richard Codey) to question whether or not the SCI model is outmoded.

The reasons? The number of annual SCI reports has dropped precipitously -- from 3 to 2. This year it put out only 1. And that 1 wasn't about organized crime, it was about the State's governing body for high school athletics. And 20 staffers at SCI make more than $100,000 a year. And the Inspector General, Medicaid Inspector General and State Comptroller also investigate corruption.

Of course, the SCI is the sole investigative body in the State not under the control of the Governor. Which is why Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono says the SCI is an absolutely necessary independent check on the executive branch. As Governor Christie plans to take control of the Atlantic City casino district, the elimination of the SCI would be ironic at best.

However, the true agenda has nothing to do with whether or not the SCI is outmoded, or duplicative. Since he was a U.S. Attorney, Chris Christie has shown a willingness to politicize the investigative powers of government. While other U.S. Attorneys serving under Alberto Gonzalez were fired for their refusal to bring political prosecutions against Democrats, Christie launched a major sting operating against Democrats in New Jersey and leaked an indictment involving Senator Roberto Menendez during the 2006 campaign.

Christie intends to draw all of the State's investigative power under his control, and then use that power to further his agenda. Attorney General Paula Dow has already said that political prosecutions are a priority for this administration, even though such cases are usually handled by the U.S Attorney's office. Already, the Christie administration has launched voter fraud investigations in Atlantic City and Essex County.

So, who are these "some" with questions? Other than Senator Codey, the only person cited by the article is Michael Herbert, the attorney for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association -- i.e., the subject of the SCI's 1 report this year. And, BTW, that report was a doozy, highlighting the NJSIAA's profligate spending and perks.

Which strongly suggests that some of those "some" are speaking without attribution, laying the groundwork for the Governor's 2011 budget axe.

Truly, the only surprising part of this whole story is that the Christie Administration would even try to sway public opinion against the SCI before lowering the boom.

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