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Friday, October 14, 2005

The Cost of Corruption


This is probably the easiest thing to show since...well, since whoever it was that proved the sun always breaks the horizon in the East to start the day. Before I kill you with figures on how much it costs to run in New Jersey, though, I think it would be best to explain why that contributes to corruption.

Let's say that some random person in Hoboken decides they don't like the way the Mayor has cosied up to real estate developers and decides to challenge the sitting mayor for the seat. The cheapest way to do it would be to walk around, door to door, and talk to enough thousands of people to actually get people to remember you and remember to vote on the right day in the right place and remember that they actually wanted to vote for you. The first problem you'll have with that is that many houses in Hoboken are multi-family and if you knock on the door all you get is someone talking to you over an intercom system.

The second is that, statistically speaking, you have to talk to someone six times before they remember your message. That doesn't mean they will agree with you, that only means they'll vaguely remember that you are running for some political office. If you want to get them to actually vote for you, you generally need to get ten "touches" - with a majority of them giving you a favorable response - and at least one reminder on election day. Starting to understand now why you get so much political mail, email, phone calls, commercials, newspaper ads, etc.?

New Jersey also lacks a homegrown television advertising network. That means that candidates have to buy time in New York City and Philadelphia - the first and fourth most expensive media markets in the country. That, in turn, means that candidates have to raise a lot of money to have a legitimate chance at winning.

How much is "a lot of money" in New Jersey politics?

In 2003, without a gubernatorial race, a combined $ 57,889,286 was spent among 351 people vying for 120 seats. That includes more than four million dollars spent by the three candidates representing the 4th District. That also includes the $22 million spent by the Party Committees on behalf of their candidates - which is fine if they think that parties are the best way to run politics (I don't). This year, the two multi-million dollar candidates for Governor of New Jersey have spent a combined $45 million trying to convince voters they should be the Chief Executive. New Jersey already holds the record for the most expensive US Senate election - $55.7 million in the Corzine-Franks race in 2000.

It just isn't possible for a "normal" person to raise that kind of money. It takes special laws to govern it - such as the incredibly biased New Jersey law that lets an individual contribute less than a third of what a political committee can contribute. The limits for committees to wheel money through to other committees is astonishingly high - $37,000. Why is it that I can only contribute $2,600 directly to a candidate, but I can give up to $37,000 to the County Committee? The only possible answer is to force people to support their local county machine.

The County Committee can then make "neutral" expenditures to register and remind people to vote totally independent on the individual candidate. This forces the candidate to play ball with the County Committee, because they have to find at least 15 maximum contributors to match one single contributor to the County Committee.

Of course, an individual can give $37,000 to the County Committee, then his or her corporation can then give another $37,000, then they can form a neighborhood association (or an infinite number of them) to contribute another $37,000. The County Committee can then give UNLIMITED amounts to the candidates they favor.

Gee. No wonder the County Chairs rule the counties like a King on a Throne.

You want to directly challenge the crooked bums that rake you over the coals every year at tax time? Good luck.

There's something rotten in the Garden. It's time for some Sunshine!

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