Author Archive: Swamp Watch

REPORT: New Jersey Leads Nation In Cheating Its Workers

The Garden State is back in the news, this time for leading the nation in a questionable practice of allowing companies to take money from workers that was designated for a state income tax, from David Cay Johnston reporting for Reuters:

Across the United States more than 2,700 companies are collecting state income taxes from hundreds of thousands of workers – and are keeping the money with the states’ approval, says an eye-opening report published on Thursday.

The report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations, identifies 16 states that let companies divert some or all of the state income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks. None of the states requires notifying the workers, whose withholdings are treated as taxes they paid.

See anything familiar at the top of the chart?


More from the article:

Deals cut with the states over the past two decades diverted $5.5 billion from public purposes to private gain, the report says. Close to $700 million more was diverted last year, Good Jobs First estimates.

New Jersey approved $73.2 million in new deals in 2011 on top of $178 million diverted that year alone under previous deals. I calculate that at nearly $80 per household in corporate welfare based on New Jersey’s 3.1 million households.

These deals typify corporate socialism, in which business gains are privatized and costs socialized. They also mean government picks winners and losers, interfering with competitive markets. Leaders in both parties embrace these giveaways because they draw campaign donations from corporate interests and votes from people who do not understand that they are subsidizing huge companies.

Someone should tell Governor Christie if New Jersey doesn’t watch out Big Business will just come here to sit on the couch and collect a government check.


Pay To Play Reforms Fail in Middlesex County


A recent report from PolitickerNJ confirms what many already know: Pay to Play Reforms are failing all over the state of New Jersey. In this instance Politicker focused on Middlesex County.

What may not be as widely known is that Comptroller Boxer also issued a report on how the Pay to Play Laws were faring. While not as widely reported on as the DRPA Report the Comptroller’s report on Pay to Play at the local level is considerably damning. From Comptroller’s Report:

One of the hallmarks of New Jersey’s traditional no-bid contracting system was the nearly unlimited discretion of the agency awarding the contract in selecting a politically favored vendor. In practice, fair-and-open requirements do not materially change that substantial discretion…

In practice, the system of fair-and-open has multiple weaknesses. As a result, it presents few, if any, real obstacles to a government entity seeking to award a contract to a politically favored vendor. As long as the contract opportunity is minimally advertised and selection parameters of any kind are drafted, the ultimate award is within the entity’s discretion and immune from outside review. In effect, no-bid contracts may be awarded to favored local vendors much as they had been prior to the passage of the pay-to-play law, and without regard to issues such as vendor cost. While no legislation can eliminate all risk associated with political corruption and donor influence in the government procurement setting, it is apparent nearly six years into its implementation that the fair-and-open system offers notably few hurdles for wrongdoers to overcome.

So the Pay to Play Reforms previously passed have failed at the local level. But what exactly happened in Middlesex County?

Rowan Trustees Funded Attack Ad Against Senator Lautenberg Using Norcross Machine PAC

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In may not be so surprising in light of new evidence that the Rutgers-Rowan Merger was a done deal before Christie and Norcross pretended to be advised that Rowan Trustees are giving money to a Norcross Machine Political Action Committee. From the Star Ledger:

If anyone missed the blast e-mail of Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s broadside against U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) for criticizing the takeover of Rutgers-Camden by Rowan University, they may well have seen the ad on – paid for by the Leaders Fund, a South Jersey PAC.

The Auditor has discovered several Rowan trustees helped pay for the ad. Martin McKernan and Nick Petroni have given $6,000 and $4,000, respectively, to the PAC since 2009. Plumbers and Pipefitters 322, whose business manager, James Kehoe, is another trustee, has donated $13,200 over the same period.

But don’t worry Rowan University is not going to be a tool for the machine and the merger is not about Norcross’ Cooper getting a bailout after DRPAesque financial mismanagement. Don’t worry.

And what about the “Leaders Fund”?

The DRPA Report and The Norcross Question

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Cross-Posted on Swamp Watch



The law is like a spider’s web; the small are caught and the great tear it up. – Solon

An investigation of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) by the State Comptroller’s office has yielded an incendiary report on the practices of the bi-state instrumentality. One of the most explosive revelations was a kickback scheme orchestrated by none other than the South Jersey maestro himself, George Norcross III. From the Comptroller’s Report:

In an effort to understand why Willis would have been selected and notified of the appointment in this way, OSC interviewed Norcross. Norcross stated that at some point prior to the December 30, 2002 e-mail, someone from Governor James McGreevey’s office had offered Norcross’ insurance company the opportunity to be DRPA’s New Jersey insurance broker. Norcross could not recall who that person was, but stated that it was not the Governor himself…

Norcross acknowledged sending Willis the e-mail informing them of the appointment, explaining that he probably would have learned of Willis’ appointment from someone at the Governor’s office or DRPA. Norcross said he could not recall the identity of that person.

DRPA Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash told OSC that shortly after Governor McGreevey took office in 2002, the new administration directed DRPA to appoint Willis as its New Jersey- designated insurance broker. Although Nash could not specifically recall the person from the Governor’s office who had directed the appointment...

While it may not be entirely clear how, why or by whom Willis ultimately was selected as DRPA’s insurance broker, it is clear, based on contemporaneous documents and OSC interviews of Willis officials, that Willis believed that Conner Strong took action to secure its appointment and compensated Conner Strong accordingly.

A rather stunning case of collective amnesia as to who in the McGreevey administration both offered the deal then informed Norcross and Nash about the contract. Though such cases of temporary and clearly self-interested amnesia have yet to be documented medically, they often occur in the course of investigations into the Norcross Machine.

And while Norcross has claimed there is no connection to the payments to Norcross’ firm and Willis receiving the contract through McGreevey officials, the other player in the scheme had no such illusions:

Courier-Post Gives Conflicting Accounts of George Norcross

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Cross-posted on Swamp Watch


An alliance with a powerful person is never safe. – Phaedrus

Long time readers of the Courier-Post were surely surprised to read the February 11th printing of the paper. On the front page was an amazing sight, a flattering portrait and headline of a man the paper had railed against and investigated for the past 20 years – exposing his corruption and decrying him as a “machine boss.” The portrait, headline, and subsequent story of February 11 bore no resemblance to the man previously reported on. He was no corrupt machine boss, but a civic minded benefactor, nay a visionary. The piece was titled “George’s Grand Vision: Norcross Sees Camden Rising”

Within the article are a series of statements that are directly contradicted by established facts, many of which were reported by the Courier itself and other Gannett publications.

The story was written by Jason Method whose byline lists New Jersey Press Media not the Courier, the story also ran in other Gannett publications like the Asbury Park Press. It is not surprising that a Courier reporter was not the author of this story given the reporter the Courier had previously assigned to cover the machine, Jane Roh, had been fired from the paper principally for conflicts created by the Norcross Machine who demanded her firing on a continual basis – at one point with the threat of legal action.

This is actually not a new tactic by the Norcross Machine regarding reporters whose coverage it disliked, as recounted by Philadelphia Magazine:

Other journalists have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Norcross behind the scenes – he shovels them dirt on his opponents, they get a few days of copy. Reporters who are perceived to betray Norcross are dealt with in kind. His cordial relationship with the Courier ‘s Alan Guenther ended when Guenther wrote a revealing three-part series calling him “Boss Norcross.” This was followed by a smear campaign aimed at Guenther and his father, a local architect whose firm donated more than $11,000 to the Camden County Democrats. Always standing in the background, Norcross let his lawyer do the dirty work, sending the newspaper a seven-page letter that attacked Guenther’s father for “solicitation of no-bid contracts” and other offenses, while outlining the reporter’s “conflicts of interest” and “vigilante tactics.” Guenther declined to comment on the matter, and despite Norcross’s efforts, he remains at the Courier .

Guenther is no longer at the Courier. Though the story itself received a Public Service Award from the Philadelphia Press Association.