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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Turning the Other Cheek on Corruption

One of the factors that influences the flourishing of an illiberal democracy is a "weak rule of law". It must be understood that this is referring only to the prosecution of political corruption. Political corruption can, in fact, operate a machine that viciously attacks certain types of crimes (or crimes in certain neighborhoods or against specific people). It cannnot, however, flourish in an area where court cases are routinely brought and won against it.

New Jersey is currently at a crossroads in this area. US Attorney Chris Christie has vigorously investigated and prosecuted corruption - in Republicans as well as Democrats. Because of this, he may well be as feared as "60 Minutes" was in the 1970's (when they did real investigative journalism). I don't think there's a politician in New Jersey that wants to hear their secretary say, "Mr. Christi is on the phone."

But, Mr. Christi would be largely irrelevant if State Attorney General Peter Harvey were more on the ball. While he has done some fine environmental work, I can't find a single scrap of evidence to indicate that he is even aware that political corruption exists in New Jersey. To be fair, it can be argued that Mr. Christi is making that unnecessary.

Considering the fact that Mr. Harvey was promoted to AG from being department head of the office specifically created to expose political corruption, though, that is a difficult argument to sell fully. There are always budget constraints and in-fighting between different offices and problem after problem after problem that can derail legitimate attempts to investigate corruption. The thing to remember is that problems are to be overcome and accountability is supposed to be a de facto part of holding office. Ed Neafsey showed just that point.

Holding public office is more than a title and a paycheck - even when (or maybe especially when) the position is appointed. It is a sacred public trust. I don't have the authority, the time, or the money to investigate political corruption. All I can do is catalog and comment on it. I can scream and shout and try to make it a legitimate issue. But I can't bring a case against anyone and I can't try a case against anyone and I can't force anyone to testify.

That's why we have an Attorney General and that's why he gets a budget for his investigative staff. I'll take the environmental victories and be happy about it. But the AG has to be brave enough to take on the very same people that put him in office. The evidence appears to overwhelmingly support the contention that Mr. Harvey doesn't have that quality.

That's why things are still rotten in the Garden State. That's why we still need some sunshine

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