Campaign Finance Reform
Two local examples of why campaign financing should be reformed:
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Walk for Reform
Steve Ma, a citizen activist, is walking 1,500 mile throughout New Jersey in a non-partisan effort to create a government more accountable to the will of the people. Steve is making stops in each of New Jersey's 21 counties, encouraging thousands of citizens to unite in the effort to reduce money's undue influence over politics. VERA hosted Steve when he walked through our area in June. We will be joining Steve when he walks to the State House in Trenton on October 20. We hope you'll be there too. Learn more about Steve's walk by clicking on the icon.
CROSSING THE STATE FOR PURER POLITICS
by Will Van Sant, Philadelphia Inquirer
Pulling 25 pounds of clothes and food on a small luggage cart and hoisting
the American flag, Steve Ma began his journey across New Jersey on April 16
in his hometown of Metuchen.
It is to end six months and 1,500 miles later on the steps of the Statehouse
in Trenton, with what Ma hopes will be a massive rally in support of curbing
the influence of money in state politics. Before that, Ma, 28, plans to pass
through each of the state's 40 legislative districts, talking with whoever
might listen about campaign-finance reform. He calls his Walk for Freedom a
way of galvanizing citizens behind that effort - and hope that many he meets
along the way will join him in Trenton.
The walk is happening "because too many people in New Jersey are suffering
due to the influence of big money in politics," Ma said recently while
making his way from Glendora to Atco in Camden County. "Money determines who wins."
While sitting down for a chat at Chews Landing and Somerdale Roads in
Gloucester Township, Ma cited figures from his analysis of data from the
state's Election Law Enforcement Commission: In 1999, two-thirds of the
$14,637,800 raised by candidates for statewide offices came from only 67
sources, and candidates with bigger coffers than their opponents won 92
percent of the time.
Ma said big money has perverted politics and led to voter disenchantment and
The failure to make progress on a host of issues, such as environmental
cleanup and health-care reform, can be traced to donor money, Ma said,
calling it "the root of so many problems."
The idea for the trek came to Ma while he was laid up in bed with
cat-scratch fever. He had considerable time to consider the works of
Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and pondered how
he could focus his social concerns into a personal mission.
Ma and his wife, Pam Garfield, quit their jobs - he with the New Jersey
Public Interest Group, she with the citizens' lobby Common Cause - to work
on the walk.
"It's more than a media stunt," said Ma, who has been involved in causes
since he was in high school. "To me, it's about civic responsibility. I take
my civic responsibility very seriously."
Working from their home, Garfield coordinates speaking engagements for Ma
and finds him shelter with sympathetic citizens each night. Ma said his wife
also brings him clean clothes and a warm hug once a week.
Ma is not sure what he will do after Oct. 20, the scheduled date of his
arrival in Trenton, but he has no plans to sit back and rest.
"I will continue to fight," he said. "Reforming our democracy is not a
With that, Ma chatted quickly with his wife by cell phone, hitched his
luggage cart to his waist, grabbed Old Glory, and headed down the road,
waving to the curious in passing cars.
- # # # -
Caption: Ma travels the roads of the state, pulling a luggage cart with
clothing and food and carrying an American flag. His wife brings him
supplies weekly. He recently marched down Chews Landing Road in Gloucester
Steve Ma wants to end his walk in October with a citizens' rally on the
steps of the Statehouse. The Metuchen man has long been a political
activist. (DAVID M WARREN / Inquirer Suburban Staff)
N.J. firm seeks to have suit dismissed
In the suit, an employee said his job was in jeopardy due to politics. The engineering firm cited his work habits.
By Maureen Graham and Angela Couloumbis
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
A South Jersey engineering firm yesterday sought to dismiss a lawsuit by an employee and Palmyra councilman who alleges that the company's top officials threatened to fire him from his private-sector job if he did not do the bidding of Democratic powerbroker George E. Norcross 3d.
JCA Associates Inc. of Moorestown is under investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice in connection with those allegations, according to yesterday's 407-page motion filed in Burlington County Court.
If the suit is not dismissed, attorneys for JCA said, then it should be set aside until the criminal probe is completed. No charges have been brought in the case.
In its motion, JCA argued that the employee, John J. Gural Jr., was abusing his position and asked the court's permission to put him on administrative leave. The motion said Gural has not been harmed and is not entitled to damages.
The motion said Gural, who remains a JCA project manager, was conducting private business and political work on company time, was abusing sick and vacation time, and was not showing up for work.
The motion also contained copies of e-mail messages that Gural wrote using a company computer. In one, dated Oct. 28, 1999, Gural talked about how he viewed his post as a Palmyra councilman. "God Bless Palmyra and the taxpayers that I get to squeeze every $$$$ out of. I take graft. Do you want a no bid contract to eradicate the deer population overrunning our neighborhoods? $10K," it read.
That e-mail was a joke between him and a childhood friend, Gural said yesterday.
The alleged pressure on Gural became public in late June when he filed his lawsuit, contending that JCA demanded that he vote to fire Ted M. Rosenberg, the Palmyra borough solicitor, or lose his job at JCA. He said in the suit that Rosenberg had angered Norcross by challenging a Norcross-backed candidate for chairman of the Burlington County Democratic organization.
According to his suit, Gural had become a confidential informant for the Division of Criminal Justice and wore a wire from December 2000 until February. During that time, he taped conversations he had with his employers at JCA as well as South Jersey political leaders, according to the suit.
The suit alleged that political favors were offered to Gural by Norcross as well as other political leaders. Norcross has denied knowing Gural.
Gural's suit named JCA Associates; its president, Mark Neisser; and the firm's director of business development, Henry Chudzinski. Neisser and Chudzinski have declined comment.
Maureen Graham's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secret recordings surface in corruption probe
A Palmyra official wearing a wire for investigators kept a copy of the tapes for himself. On them: An inside view of politics.
By Maureen Graham, Angela Couloumbis and George Anastasia
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
While secretly recording hundreds of conversations for the state Division of Criminal Justice in an ongoing political probe, a Palmyra councilman made his own set of tape recordings with key South Jersey political figures - but never told state investigators he was doing it.
John Gural Jr.'s recordings include conversations with the head of the engineering firm where he works and with South Jersey power broker George E. Norcross 3d. They are part of a widening political-corruption investigation in which the state has questioned more than a dozen people, some of them before a grand jury in Trenton.
Gural said he had made his own set of recordings because he had been dealing with powerful people and had been concerned that the investigation might crumble under political pressure.
At least two people, both executives of the engineering firm JCA Associates of Moorestown, where Gural works, have been informed that they are targets. And nearly a dozen criminal-defense attorneys are involved in the case, representing those who have been questioned, said Mike Pinsky, one of the attorneys.
The probe focuses, in part, on whether Gural's employers and others tried to pressure him into taking an official action in exchange for compensation, according to those involved in the investigation.
No criminal charges have been filed, and it is not clear that any will be. Division of Criminal Justice officials say they cannot comment publicly on the probe.
The tapes offer a unique, inside view of the way politics are sometimes played.
In Gural's case, he was being asked to fire Ted Rosenberg, the solicitor for Palmyra and a political adversary of Norcross, the former Camden County Democratic Chairman who is chief executive officer and chairman of Commerce National Insurance Services Inc. In exchange, Gural was negotiating to receive a cut of government contracts that JCA Associates was awarded via political contacts, according to the tapes, which were obtained by The Inquirer.
"We'd like to see you derive a little bit of that benefit," Norcross is heard telling Gural on one tape. Later in the conversation, he says, "I wanted to see some of that benefit go to you. . . . I just want to keep a low profile, as you know."
A defense attorney in the case said that while Norcross is discussing the "benefit" to Gural, nowhere on the tape is he heard asking Gural to fire Rosenberg or perform any other official action.
In a telephone interview last night, Norcross said Gural's actions were part of a political vendetta, growing in part from Norcross' refusal to support Gural in a run for the legislature.
"Gural and others are attempting to retaliate against me because I refused to support him for the Assembly, in place of Dr. Herb Conaway," Norcross said. "Gural became incensed at my refusal, referred to Dr. Conaway in racist terms, and decided to launch a vendetta against me."
Conaway, who is black, is a Democratic assemblyman in the Seventh District who is seeking reelection.
Gural denied the allegations, saying, "That's pathetic."
Neither Norcross nor his lawyer would comment further.
Besides making the tapes without telling state prosecutors, Gural in June filed a civil suit against JCA, alleging his employer threatened to fire him if he did not vote to get rid of Rosenberg.
Defense attorneys and law enforcement officials say making the duplicate tapes could undermine Gural's credibility if he is ever asked to testify because it suggests he had a political agenda.
Gural, 41, joined JCA in March 1998 as an hourly employee and earned $45,000 a year as a construction inspector. He said he had been unprepared for the pressures of working for the politically connected firm, which has contracts in numerous towns and several counties in South Jersey.
Eventually, he said, he decided to wear the wire and sue his bosses, JCA president Mark Neisser and director of business development Henry Chudzinski. The suit contends the two men - who are targets of the criminal probe - pressured Gural to fire Rosenberg or risk losing his job at JCA.
In interviews, Gural said his troubles had begun in December 1999 when Democrats in Burlington County were searching for a strong candidate to lead the county Democratic Party after decades of failure to make any inroads in the Republican stronghold.
Gural suggested Rosenberg for the job.
But Norcross supported politico Lou Gallagher. With Gural backing him, however, Rosenberg launched a rebel campaign to win the seat without Norcross' support.
And that, according to Gural's suit, was when his job at JCA turned sour. On Feb. 14, 2000, he said, Neisser told him that it would be far better for his career to distance himself from Rosenberg.
Gural said Neisser had then explained that Norcross funneled government contracts to the engineering firm, and that an angry Norcross could spell financial disaster.
"George is too important to business," Gural said he had been told.
Gural said that had prompted him to start taping.
With a palm-sized recorder, Gural made hundreds of hours of tapes to get the firing threats on record.
In early December 2000, he took his tapes to the Division of Criminal Justice, which agreed an investigation was warranted.
According to Gural, the state told him that if anyone threatened him with firing for failing to carry out his or her bidding as a public official, the government could bring a charge of extortion. If he was offered a financial reward, the charge could rise to the more serious offense of bribery.
For three months, investigators went to his house every morning at 7:15 to fit him with sophisticated wiretap devices. One - a thin, cardlike device - went into his shirt pocket; another, for insurance, was strapped to his hip.
In addition with his superiors at JCA, he taped political conversations with Gallagher, now a state Senate candidate and chairman of the county Democratic Party; John Harrington, a nominee for a Superior Court judgeship; and Alice Furia, vice chairwoman of the Democratic Party.
Midway through the tapings, investigators told Gural to play along and pretend he was willing to fire Rosenberg and to ask for a reward.
Gural put the plan in motion, asking for a part-time job on the county's Board of Elections to supplement his regular job, and he made his wishes known to Neisser, to Chudzinski - and, at a private meeting, to Norcross.
Gural said he had taped that meeting for the state but not for himself because he had been afraid his recorder would be detected. In his lawsuit, he said Norcross had told him at the meeting that he planned to destroy Rosenberg by "eliminating his political appointments."
Within days, according to the suit, Gural spoke with Gallagher, who told him that the Board of Elections job had been promised to someone else, but that Gural was "entitled to something for sticking his neck out" in the plan to fire Rosenberg. Gallagher indicated "he could work something out with JCA in order to make sure [Gural] was compensated for his efforts," the suit states.
In later conversations, after he resumed taping, Gural was told that he would receive a cut of profits from new government work awarded to JCA.
On Jan. 29, 2001, at the direction of investigators, Gural taped Norcross in a telephone call.
On the tape, Norcross said Gural would "benefit" through JCA, and that Norcross would speak with Neisser about Gural.
Two days later, Gural met with Neisser and Chudzinski to talk about receiving a cut of JCA's work.
Neisser and Chudzinski, unaware they were being taped, were not happy about the plan. Ultimately, Neisser told Gural that he would speak with Norcross about the issue, adding: "We'll work out whatever it is. OK. I'm not going to let the party down and George down."
On Feb. 5, 2001 - the day Gural was scheduled to vote against Rosenberg at Palmyra's annual reorganization meeting - Neisser took Gural into his office and detailed how Gural would be "compensated" for his action.
"What they're going to try to do is find some other opportunities for us, whether it's in this county or other counties where we wouldn't normally gotten - and so forth - and then that would go in your credit column.
"Let's put it that way. I would compensate you for that."
Gural said he had known the game would be over as soon as he failed to vote to fire Rosenberg. In February, Gural abstained from the vote, and Rosenberg won reappointment.
After that, Gural said, his job was at risk, and every day he feared being fired.
In June, he filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, contending that Neisser and Chudzinski had tried to coerce him to fire Rosenberg.
The lawsuit outlined that Gural had been an informant for the Division of Criminal Justice. It talked about the threats to his job, the offer of compensation. and the political inner workings.
What it did not say was that Gural had recorded the entire state investigation.
Maureen Graham's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Excerpts From the Tapes
Jan. 29, 2001
These are excerpts of a telephone conversation between John Gural Jr. and Democratic power broker George E. Norcross 3d. Gural tells Norcross that Lou Gallagher, head of the Burlington County Democratic Party, told him that Gural would not get a job he was seeking at the county Board of Elections but would be compensated instead through his employer, JCA Associates, an engineering firm.
Gural: "Now I met with Lou about a week, a week and a half ago, and I don't know, just to be perfectly honest with you, if he's jerking me . . . or just what, but . . ."
Norcross: "He's not jerking you . . .."
Gural: "OK. Can I speak frankly?"
Norcross: "Yeah, of course."
Gural: "OK. I wasn't sure if you were concerned about the phone or whatever. He was suggesting that - first of all he apologized for not being able to take care of the one thing I was interested in."
Norcross: "Yeah, the Election Board thing."
Gural: "And he explained that to me, and I have - and I understood that - I was interested in that because . . . obviously, it helps feed the family and that whole bit."
Gural: "He was suggesting that in the future, Mark [Neisser, president of JCA Associates] might be able to get some work, and I would essentially get credit for that. When I suggested that to Mark, I wasn't sure if he was on board with that or not. And I . . ."
Norcross: "Well, I already spoke to Mark independently on this subject about you."
Norcross: "Telling him that, as he knows, I've been very helpful to him over a period of time and also recently."
Norcross: "And I wanted to see some of that benefit go to you."
Norcross: "So I had that conversation with him."
The conversation turned to other subjects before concluding:
Norcross: "And please feel free to call me anytime direct if you have any questions or issues. I just want to keep a low profile as you know."
Jan. 31, 2001
Gural, Neisser and Henry Chudzinski, director of business development for JCA, discuss Gural's conversation with Norcross.
Neisser: "Yeah. It's falling back on my . . . lap again."
Gural: "That's exactly what it means."
Chudzinski: "Yeah, so when it all shakes out, the word is going to be that [Palmyra solicitor Ted] Rosenberg - Gural - did this, because Mark paid him, OK? And then we're going to have a . . . war. . . ."
Neisser: "I've got to work it out. . . . We'll work out whatever it is. OK. I'm not going to let the party down and George down. Right. But if George is involved, you're not going to be let down. . . ."
Feb. 5, 2001
On the day of a scheduled vote by the Palmyra Borough Council on Rosenberg's reappointment, Neisser tells Gural that he has spoken with Norcross and Gallagher and describes how Gural will be compensated through JCA.
Neisser: "I think, I think, I got to the bottom of this whole thing. . . . And I think the intent is to make sure that everybody that's on the team gets their share, obviously including you. I think I told you also that I think George would make sure that happened. I don't think he would give me his word [that] he would look after your best interests. Did you ask him something along those lines?"
Gural: "Actually, what he said was what we discussed last week. I didn't ask him that question specifically, I don't think."
Neisser: "OK. . . . I think what their intention is, um, that if you're part of the team, that can only be beneficial to JCA. And that, ah, what they're going to try to do is find some other opportunities for us, whether it's in this county or other counties, where we wouldn't normally gotten, and so forth, and then that would go in your credit column. Let's put it that way. And that, um, I would compensate you for that. Um. I don't have a problem with that."
Neisser: "I can't - I don't want to sit here and tell you that it's going to be one for one for, ah, you know, whatever happens at the Election Board, but, ah, I'll make sure that you're - that if things work out well, I'll make sure that you're, you're compensated. I don't know what the number is - I'm not going to lie to you, I don't know - but you're going to have to just trust me that, uh, I'm not going to screw you. . . ."