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What Happened to the Gorilla? After her upset victory in November over John Bennett III, Republican Senate co-president, Ellen Karcher, the Democratic senator-elect, said that better government ethics “is the 800-pound gorilla that no one can ignore.” Except to ban legislators from hiring their relatives, the governor and the Legislature are ignoring the gorilla. The reason is painfully obvious. An editorial writer, paraphrasing Vince Lombardi, once said that “Money isn’t just a corrupting influence in politics — it’s the only influence.” In the November election, all 120 seats in the Legislature were contested. The Democrats won control of the state Senate and increased their majority in the Assembly. The issues that dominated the campaign were ethical issues. Four of the seven incumbents who lost in November were debating ethical issues such as nepotism, dual-office holding and no-bid contracts throughout their campaigns. But even as the candidates from both parties pledged to curb the influence of money in politics, the money poured in. Campaign finance data released by the Election Law Enforcement Commission disclose that more than $79 million went into the campaigns of New Jersey legislative candidates last year. Three major Democratic political action committees raised $22.7 million in 2003, double the previous amount raised in a nongubernatorial election year. In the final weeks of the campaign, the Democrats solicited loans from wealthy donors to finance a massive media campaign in key election districts. In its recent decision upholding key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms, the U.S. Supreme Court restated what we intuitively know. The law sought to control the influence of money in politics. Challengers to the law said it violated First Amendment rights of free speech in political campaigns. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote simply: “Money is property; it is not speech.” Congress can control the corrupting influence of money, the Court said: “the idea that large contributions to a national party can corrupt or create the appearance of corruption of federal candidates and officeholders is neither novel or implausible.” Continuing, the decision said, “both common sense and the ample record in these cases confirm Congress’ belief that they do.” New Jersey should follow the lead of the Supreme Court and Congress and begin to reform the corrupting influence of money in politics. A first step is to ban pay-to-play, the practice some companies use to obtain public contracts by directly or indirectly contributing to a candidate’s campaign in the hope of later winning a contract. Under the Senate bill that passed the Senate last year, businesses seeking more than $17,500 in government contracts could not contribute more than a combined $5,000 a year to lawmakers or political committees. The figures may stand some adjustment, but that type of bill is a good start — at all levels of government. We suspect that lawyers, engineers, investment bankers and contractors, all would welcome a reprieve from the present system. That which corrupts politics, corrupts business and the learned professions as well. Another step would be to close the loophole that funnels huge sums to PACs controlled by the legislative leaders and the state political parties, and has provided a new vehicle for influence peddling. We should ban leadership PACs and greatly lower the limit on contributions to party committees. Gov. James McGreevey has been playing the indecisive role of Hamlet on the subject. When asked if he would have the Democratic leaders of the Legislature post the reform bills for a vote, McGreevey responded that he is but one of the persons involved in reform: “It’s a process of compromise. It’s a process of consensus,” he said. Reform comes from the top. The governor of New Jersey is the most powerful elected chief executive in the United States other than the president. He can get the bill posted. He should do so. His future and the state’s future are at stake. Shape-Up Many of our older suburban cities have become home to day laborers, many of whom are illegal immigrants who work in landscaping, painting, construction and other industries where casual labor is the norm. As has always been true of casual labor, they are hired at informal, street corner shape-ups early in the morning. These open air job markets cause both perceived and genuine problems. Established residents of the community find the presence of so many apparently idle men of alien appearance to be disturbing. Businesses believe they frighten customers away. Even to the unprejudiced eye, the corner shape-up creates problems of street and sidewalk congestion, trash disposal and personal sanitation. As we know from the experience of the stevedoring industry, it is also vulnerable to corruption and intimidation. Nevertheless, it fills a need. Neither the workers nor the employers who hire them are going to disappear. The town of Freehold is the site of a shape-up that succeeded rather too well. On advice of the INS, town officials allowed the casual labor market to operate unmolested on a vacant piece of property along the railroad tracks. After several years, it became so well known that more than 300 job seekers came per day, some from as far as Staten Island, to work in towns throughout the region. Opposition by residents led the town to withdraw its tacit consent and begin a policy of threatening day laborers with arrest for trespass and other offenses. Litigation by representatives of the laborers has ensued. The solution is not to chase the shape-up out of town, as Freehold is trying to do, but to bring it indoors into a regional hiring hall run by a nonprofit organization or the municipality on a first-come, first-served basis. Workers and employers would find one another at a known location off the street, the hiring process would be fairly administered, the costs could be spread over all the communities who benefit, and the hall would serve as a natural center for information and services to the immigrant population. It would harmonize well with President George W. Bush’s recent immigration initiative if New Jersey’s Legislature were to authorize the establishment of such hiring facilities in the appropriate locations, regulate their operation, provide for equitable sharing of their cost and amend the Municipal Land Use Law to provide for their location on a regional basis. Punting on Gun Control Several years ago, the Supreme Court declined to review the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in United States v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203 (2001), cert. denied, 536 U.S. 907 (2002), endorsing the individual right to bear arms postulate. It has now ducked the issue again, refusing to review the 9th Circuit’s contrary conclusion in Silveira v. Lockyer, 312 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 124 S.Ct. 803 (2003). In Silveira, the 9th Circuit held that the Second Amendment guarantees the people’s right to maintain effective state militias, “but does not provide any type of individual right to own or possess weapons .” Given the attorney general’s reversal of the Justice Department’s long-standing position rejecting the individual rights view and his enthusiastic support of Emerson, we should be happy with this standoff. Maybe the issue never will reach the Supreme Court, because even constitutional rights are subject to reasonable regulation. We doubt if the Second Amendment, no matter how broadly construed, permits an individual citizen to carry around a machine gun.

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