Inside Ocean County Government

Election 2016, Opinion, Pay-to-play

Kim Guadagno’s Cognitive Dissonance on Pay-to-Play

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In a recent radio appearance, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno slammed “pay-to-play” among Trenton Democrats and cited a need to “change the culture” in the state capitol. Despite her strong rhetoric, the lieutenant governor’s continued acceptance of Ocean County’s tainted campaign cash shows that on the issue of pay-to-play, the likely 2017 GOP gubernatorial candidate’s words don’t match her actions.

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Ocean County Freeholder Virginia Haines addressed students and faculty at Ocean County College in Toms River as part of Women's History Month. They also answered questions from students.

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Ocean County Freeholder Virginia Haines address students and faculty at Ocean County College in Toms River. (Photo: Office of the Governor)

With all eyes about to be on the upcoming 2017 race for governor, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno is really starting to walk and talk like a 2017 candidate, as she makes her way around the media and campaign circuit.

Her most recent radio appearance with New Jersey 101.5’s Bill Spadea – a former GOP candidate himself – centered on Senate President Steve Sweeney’s shocking public statements calling for an investigation into both the NJEA and PBA unions for extortion over their threats to withhold campaign contributions to Democrats if they were unable to secure a vote on a constitutional amendment to guarantee pension payments.

Steve Sweeney

Steve Sweeney

In response, Guadagno touted a bill proposed by GOP state senators Tom Kean and Mike Doherty that would force unions like the NJEA and other public sector unions to be subject to certain state pay-to-play laws that they are currently exempt from. In her on-air appearance, she challenged Sweeney to put the bill up to a vote, knowing full well that the state senate president is between a rock and a hard place on the pension issue, as Sweeney is caught between two reliably Democratic constituencies.

While the lieutenant governor offered a solid criticism of Sweeney, and she is also correct in asserting that Trenton needs less “special interest money” flowing in, Kim Guadagno only needs to look to the ledgers of her own group to find the corrupting taint of pay-to-play at work, despite criticizing those on the other side of the aisle for doing the same thing.

Despite Her Criticism of Pay-to-Play, Guadagno’s New Group Took Gilmore Cash

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Kim Guadagno

George Gilmore

George Gilmore

Earlier this year, Mrs. Guadagno was named the “honorary chair” of Building a Better NJ Together, a recently formed organization, officially billed as a “think-tank,” but widely seen as a vehicle for bolstering the lieutenant governor’s future political ambitions.

The LG’s 2017 strategy is far from revolutionary. Democrat Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and 2017 gubernatorial contender, pulled the same stunt with his New Way for New Jersey group before being one of the first on the other side of the aisle to declare his candidacy for governor.

The group’s executive director is none other than Bill Stepien, a Republican political consultant and one of the key figures caught up in the “Bridgegate” scandal that clouded Governor Chris Christie. Stepien’s consulting services have also been retained by the Brick & Ocean County GOP organizations, as we earlier reported.

Campaign finance records from a report filed with the state in July show that the Ocean County GOP Chairman’s PAC made a $600 contribution to the organization, which is a tax-exempt “social welfare” organization under section 501 (c) (4) of the US Internal Revenue Code.

From a recently filed ELEC report

From a recently filed Ocean County GOP Chairman’s PAC ELEC report

While she can talk a good talk, Guadagno’s actions speak louder than her words. As long as she continues to take money from those who feather their own nests with pay-to-play professional services contracts, how can the public be confident in her ability to stand up to ethically questionable campaign financing in Trenton, if she cannot do the same in her own party?

Maybe it just happens to be a coincidence (it’s not), but many of the names listed as donors to the Chairman’s PAC just happen to be the same law firms, accountants and other professionals that get lucrative public contracts at the county and municipal level in many of Ocean County’s municipalities and various governmental agencies.

Gilmore’s support for Guadagno and her group comes as no surprise, as Ocean County delivered big for Governor Christie’s ticket in both campaigns, but taken in the context of her rhetoric attacking pay-to-play, Lieutenant Governor Guadagno’s continued acceptance of Gilmore-tied money is a stunning display of hypocrisy on the lieutenant governor’s part that calls into question the sincerity of her sharp rhetoric.

Whether it’s Democrat George Norcross’ hospital and insurance contracts or Republican George Gilmore’s legal contracts, pay-to-play is a perversion of government and the democratic process. It allows private individuals to turn elections into their personal piggybanks while taxpayers are left to pick up the tab. If Kim Guadagno is as serious as she says she is about changing the culture of Trenton, she should start by taking a hard look at the people bankrolling her own organization.

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