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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Christie Under the Law

Many years ago, then-President Bill Clinton invited derision and scorn from some circles for giving an evasive answer to a question in his grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky matter. Clinton famously remarked, "It depends on what the definition of is, is."

A similar type of nuance-drawing is apparently being followed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In recent weeks the 501(c)(4) group Reform Jersey Now has been revealed to be encouraging its donors to give freely with the lure that they will be subject to no contribution limits and no restrictions on pay-to-play. (The latter practice is widely seen as a leading cause of political corruption across the country.).

Hat tip to the Record's Charles Stile for his column this morning in which he quotes Christie as saying:

"My position is when (sic) it was under U.S. Attorney. People have to operate under the law. If they operate under the law, then that's the way it goes."

Interestingly, several lawyers used the argument that their clients -- like Joseph Ferriero, Wayne Bryant and so on -- operated under the law (that is, state law), but these people were still investigated, indicted, prosecuted and convicted.

This nuance-drawing is not necessarily wrong or illegal. It simply leads to an appearance of impropriety and hypocrisy -- things which led Christie, earlier in his professional life, to launch investigations against other public officials. At the very least, Christie fails here to set a standard for model, moral behavior.

Chris Christie has left himself open - again - to charges of hypocrisy. His stance on the technically-legal but seemingly-not-quite-right circumvention of the pay-to-play restrictions diminishes his claim to moral authority. Politically, this is treacherous territory, and it weakens his ability (in this observer's view) to push for the structural government reforms New Jersey needs.


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