Corzine to introduce ethics reforms

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - September 24, 2008 Some of the reforms would be accomplished immediately through executive order, while others would need legislative approval, according to a summary obtained by The Associated Press from a person familiar with the plan who did not want to be identified because the plan had not been formally announced.

The executive order would:

- Ban political contributions by state redevelopers and their consultants.

- Tighten the current ban on state-contractor contributions to include those made by partners of professional service firms.

- Appoint a task force to study whether the Local Government Ethics Law should be changed to match state law.

- Update financial disclosure rules for members of newly created boards and commissions.

"We have an absolute responsibility to give our citizens the most we can from their tax dollars," Corzine said in a written statement. "This is about ethics in government, which is fundamental. But it's also about fiscal responsibility, which is essential."

Other reform measures, which would require legislative action, would apply to municipal governments, school districts, utility authorities, auditors and county and municipal political party committees.

They address concerns about "pay to play" - the practice of rewarding political donors with lucrative government contracts - and so-called "wheeling" of campaign money from one political party committee to another.

The governor also wants legislation to increase financial disclosure by lawmakers.

Among the proposed pay to play reforms:

- A ban on contributions by county government contractors to municipal candidates and a ban on contributions by municipal contractors to county candidates.

- A ban contributions by developers seeking development approvals.

- A ban on contributions from audit firms and partners to audit clients.

Wheeling reforms would set new limits on contributions from one political committee to another and a campaign finance proposal would lower the current annual limit on contributions to a county political committee.

Corzine also will propose a set of contracting reforms affecting local municipalities and school districts.

Among them:

- Requiring a "fair and open process" for awards of professional services contracts.

- Requiring "competitive contracting" for insurance contracts.

- Changing selection practices to ensure the independence of local auditors.

Corzine also wants legislation to convert the State Ethics Commission to a body of all public members; it currently consists of four citizens and three public officials.

Other proposed reforms would prohibit use of state funds to hire lobbyists to lobby state government and give state election officials authority to impose penalties for late filing of campaign finance reports.

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