Wisniewski Bill to Subject Governor to NJ Conflicts of Interest Law & Allow Fines for Violations Advances

The Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski to subject the governor to the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law and allow the State Ethics Commission to impose fines on the governor for any ethics violations.

The bill (A-2437) was initially inspired by questions surrounding sizable gifts Gov. Chris Christie has received from notable dignitaries and acquaintances.

“We’re not breaking new ground here, to be honest,” Wisniewski said. “We’re subjecting the governor to the same rules as everyone else, which is the fair and right thing to do. Currently, the Governor gets to decide what ethical standards apply to his office. This legislation will fix that gap in our current law. The chief executive of New Jersey should not be playing by different rules than everyone else. That sets a bad example and opens the door to troubling questions that call into question whether the public trust is being violated.”

The bill would subject the governor to the same ethics laws already covering legislators, state officers and employees; require the State Ethics Commission to prepare a code of ethics applicable to the governor; and permit the State Ethics Commission to impose fines on the governor for violations.

Also, the bill rescinds Executive Order No. 77 of 2003 – which Gov. Christie has used to justify gifts – and makes clear the governor will not be able to alter, by executive order, any code of ethics or law that applies to the governor or to the staff of the governor’s office.

“The questions about the propriety of gifts have focused on Gov. Christie, and rightly so, but this isn’t about just him,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “In our representative government, it’s essential that every public official conduct themselves above reproach by avoiding conduct that violates the public trust or, at the very least, creates a justifiable impression that such trust is being violated, and that includes the governor. This bill, in the end, is just common sense.”

Under the bill, among other things:
– No governor, shall accept from any person, whether directly or indirectly and whether by themselves or through a spouse or any member of the family or through any partner or associate, any gift, favor, service, employment or offer of employment or any other thing of value that the governor knows or has reason to believe is offered with intent to influence the performance of public duties and responsibilities.
– No governor may accept, directly or indirectly, any compensation, reward, employment, gift, honorarium or other thing of value from a lobbyist or governmental affairs agent totaling more than $250 in a calendar year. The $250 limit on acceptance of compensation, reward, gift, honorarium or other thing of value shall also apply to each member of the immediate family of the governor, as defined to be a spouse, child, parent, or sibling of the governor or member residing in the same household.
– Any governor found guilty by the ethics commission of violating any provision of the law or a code of ethics shall be fined not less than $500 nor more than $10,000.
– The governor and the staff of the governor’s office shall be subject to the provisions of the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law and to the jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission. The governor shall not alter, by executive order, a code of ethics, or otherwise, any provision of that law or of any code of ethics promulgated thereunder by the State Ethics Commission that applies to the governor or to the staff of the office of the Governor. The provisions of Executive Order No. 77 (McGreevey) of 2003, and the Code of Conduct for the Governor promulgated thereunder, shall be rescinded.
– The executive director of the State Ethics Commission shall meet with the governor within 30 days after the governor takes office, and shall meet annually to inform the governor of the laws, regulations, codes, orders, procedures, advisory opinions and rulings concerning applicable ethical standards.
– The commission shall prepare and ensure the distribution to the governor of a plain language ethics guide that provides a clear and concise summary of the laws, regulations, codes, orders, procedures, advisory opinions and rulings concerning ethical standards.
– The governor shall certify that he or she has received the guide, reviewed it and understands its provisions.