Did Star-Ledger collude with Murphy A.G. to produce anti-ballot question headline?

Journalism isn’t what it once was.  Today, there is a revolving door between journalism, government, politics, and lobbying.  Today’s journalist is likely to be tomorrow’s political director.

Look at the case of Mark Magyar, one of Senate President Steve Sweeney's top aides.  In December of 2014, Magyar was hired as the Democrat's new Director of Policy and Communications.  Magyar had been a statehouse reporter for the Asbury Park Press and the Bergen Record, as well as the editor of the New Jersey Spotlight.

The corporate and political empire of Democrat Party boss George Norcross – the political machine of which the Senate President is a part – has a history of co-opting or attempting to co-opt local and regional newspapers in that part of New Jersey where his authoritarian rule is almost uncontested.  The machine is in the process of solidifying its rule in its southern New Jersey base, while expanding its power across the state – and beyond.

Mark Magyar is the spouse of Elizabeth K. Parker, Co-publisher and Executive Editor of the New Jersey Hills Media Group.  The group is controlled by the Recorder Publishing Company, a privately held entity in Bernardsville, that owns and publishes 17 local newspapers in Republican Morris County, Somerset County, and Hunterdon County -- and in Republican towns in Essex County.  Their readership comes from towns that usually get the short end of the sick from the Democrats in Trenton.  The company also sells other services, including website development, search engine optimization, "Reputation Management", and "Social Media Management".

Newspapers were never as pure and disinterested as their cheerleaders would have us believe, but at least – once upon a time/ just yesterday – they did constitute a locus of power independent of political machines.  Not necessarily of their corporate advertisers (per Herman and Chomsky), but certainly of base political machines.  Those days are drawing to a close.

We saw evidence of this on Saturday, when the office of Gurbir Grewal, the state Attorney General appointed by Governor Phil Murphy, conspired with Star-Ledger/ NJ.com reporter Rob Jennings to concoct a news headline the Murphy administration could use to undermine the people of Sussex County’s right to vote on Murphy’s Sanctuary State scheme.  At issue was a public question on the November ballot, passed by the Freeholders in April, that asks the voters their opinion on whether Sussex County Sheriff Mike Strada should follow American law on illegal immigration – or the directives of the Murphy administration.

The Democrat Murphy administration is arguing that Sussex County taxpayers should not have the right to vote on issues that affect the performance of county functions that they pay for entirely out of their highest-in-the-nation property taxes.  Taxation without the right to vote sounds pretty un-American to us.

Concurrent with plans to allow illegal aliens to have drivers licenses and to give incarcerated violent criminals the right to vote and hire lobbyists, the Murphy administration is using Grewal in an attempt to bully and intimidate the elected Freeholders of Sussex County into ending plans to allow the people the right to vote on a public question on the November ballot.  Popular sentiment across the state has been running against Murphy, so Grewal’s office was charged with finding a reporter who would provide them with a headline they could use.

Jennings, a former intern with Democrat Governor Mario Cuomo, was used to provide it.  Grewal’s office leaked confidential correspondence to Jennings, who promptly wrote a story with the headline:  “Sussex County caves to Murphy AG, will not put immigration question on ballot.”  It was the journalistic equivalent of performing fellatio for Grewal’s office.

Of course, the headline was false.  Jennings lied.  The Star-Ledger printed fake news.  Only the County Clerk had “caved”.  In fact, the County Freeholder Board had hired a conservative attorney less than 48 hours before to fight the Murphy administration.  This special counsel was charged with creating an updated ballot question with language that defeats the legal objections raised by the Murphy administration, so that Murphy and his cronies cannot hold up its placement on the ballot through legal maneuverings.

Jennings refused to write about it.  Even after he was contacted by Freeholders and the Special Counsel, Jennings refused to correct or update his story.  The lie remained published.

Not only did Jennings break the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), but Grewal’s office may have broken its professional code as well.  Word is that both may face ethical enquiries.

Despite the false headline, the Sussex County Freeholders remain resolved to fight the Murphy administration, with or without the assistance of the County Clerk.  And the Freeholders could always bring a lawsuit to compel the Clerk to place the public question on the November ballot.

New Jersey is unique in its forms and ways of political corruption – especially of systemic corruption – in that it rides the wave just ahead of the rest of America.  Sadly, it appears that what we once called journalism is on a rapid descent into the realms of propaganda and in future will be little more than coarse party broadsheets -- advertisements using histrionics worthy of Pravda or the Völkischer Beobachter.

Regina Egea: Connecticut’s housing crash a warning for NJ

Eagea.png

The Garden State Initiative’s Regina Egea has once again brought home some hard truths that New Jersey’s political class had better embrace.  Egea is one of the smartest thinkers on public policy in New Jersey.  An M.B.A., former AT&T executive, state Treasury Department official, and Governor’s Chief of Staff – Egea also served in local government as a Deputy Mayor and School Board Member.  As President of the Garden State Initiative, she’s been collecting data, studying issues, and coming up with solutions to New Jersey’s most pressing fiscal concerns.

On May 9th you too can be part of the solution.  The Garden State Initiative will be holding its 2nd Annual Economic Policy Forum.  Join policy leaders like Senator Steve Oroho, Senator Declan O’Scanlon, and Senate President Steve Sweeney in a discussion about the future of New Jersey.  The details are below:

Garden State Initiative's 2nd Annual
Economic Policy Forum  
Thursday, May 9th, 4 to 6 pm
Hyatt Regency - New Brunswick

Egea recently wrote:  The Garden State Initiative's first research report in 2017, “Connecticut’s Fiscal Crisis Is a Cautionary Tale for New Jersey”, detailed how our neighbor up I-95, with its struggling economy, saddled with massive public debt and high taxes, served as a ‘canary in the coal mine’ for New Jersey unless we take the necessary measures to get our own fiscal house in order.”

Below are excerpts from Regina Egea’s op-ed published today in the Bergen Record and NorthJersey.com:

A recent Wall Street Journal report, “Wealthy Greenwich Home Sellers Give in to Market Reality,” on Connecticut’s real estate market should concern all New Jersey residents.

The report documents a severe price decline among high-end real estate in the Nutmeg State’s most exclusive areas, notably Greenwich, long a symbol of modern American affluence. Despite America’s booming economy, the report cited numerous reports of owners selling homes for far below what they paid a decade or more ago. 

This was typically preceded by these homeowners' establishing residences in more fiscally attractive states like Florida. (Sound familiar, New Jersey?)

The evidence is staggering. The median home price in Greenwich dropped by 16.7% last year to $1.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to a report by brokerage Douglas Elliman, with early reports showing a 25% decrease in early 2019. In a jarring anecdote, the Journal cited “a stately Colonial-style home on Greenwich, Conn.’s tony Round Hill Road is being sold in a way that was once unthinkable in one of the country’s most affluent communities: It is getting auctioned off. Once asking $3.795 million, the four-bedroom property will be sold … for a reserve price of just $1.8 million.”

…The storm that is currently hitting Connecticut’s real estate market has clouds gathering in New Jersey.

When the wealthy flee a state, sustaining massive losses on their homes in the process, it is unfortunate for the individual but likely devastating for those remaining, particularly if this occurs in New Jersey due to our extraordinary reliance on property tax revenues to sustain local governments and schools. 

The research firm Wealth X reported that New Jersey lost 5,700 people with liquid assets from $1 million to $30 million in 2018 — and that’s before the implications of the state and local tax (SALT) cap on federal taxes were truly felt. Recent reports indicate that New Jersey’s income tax receipts are falling well below projections.

Discussions around yet another tax increase on the wealthy, to fund the nearly $40 billion state budget, will only exacerbate the exodus of wealth. As reference, Connecticut has a top marginal tax rate of 6.99%; last year’s budget agreement increased New Jersey’s to 10.75%. The top 2% of all New Jersey income tax filers (those making $500,000 per year) account for over 40% of all income tax revenue to the state. Since close to 40% of state revenues are from personal income taxes, increasing dependence on this group exacerbates our vulnerability at both the state and local levels. An individual loss in this income category reverberates throughout the state.

The risk now is not just those wealthy fleeing our state. As high-end real estate values deflate, as in Greenwich, the taxes to support our local governments and schools will be redistributed to moderate- and lower-value property owners.

A recent Monmouth University poll illustrates that New Jersey residents’ views of the quality of life in our state are tumbling to an all-time low. The latest poll shows that only 50% of residents are positive, down from the prior result of 54%, and in no surprise, 45% of residents named property taxes as the state’s most pressing issue.

To read the entire article, visit NorthJersey.com

https://www.northjersey.com/story/opinion/2019/04/29/connecticut-housing-crash-predictive-nj/ 

For more information on The Garden State Initiative, visit…

https://www.gardenstateinitiative.org

The Hugin campaign would have done better in a Democrat primary.

Bob Hugin is a great guy.  Really.  He’s a good and decent man.  It was unfortunate that he found himself in a Republican primary… this year.  The fact that he persevered with such confidence and grace makes him a heroic, somewhat tragic, figure.  

Bob Hugin could have run in the Democrat primary.  $35 million… against Bob Menendez?  Hugin had the issues right for a Democrat primary… and the media wouldn’t have pounced on a Democrat Bob Hugin the way they did a Republican Bob Hugin.  The media love rich members of the One Percent when they are Democrats (it is a capital sin when you are a Republican)… they love woke, right-on pharma folk of the proper political affiliation.  They would have forgiven him everything.

But Bob ran as a Republican, and he ran this year.  A year when the media he wanted to appeal to was working to nationalize the election – to make it about Trump.  That media ended up vouching for Bob Menendez, despite having formerly called for his resignation. That media still cuts it with the people who Bob Hugin wanted to convince:  Democrats and liberal-leaners.   

Rather than shutting down Menendez, Hugin’s attacks were used by the media as evidence that he – Bob Hugin – was a “bad” man.  Of course, this only works with those who are open to receiving a message from the likes of Tom Moran and MSNBC.  Unfortunately, they were precisely the voters that the Hugin campaign was aimed at. 

Can we put aside the myth that Republican voters will come out no matter what, and dutifully vote Republican?  That myth should have finally, once and for all, been discarded after the low turnout Assembly races in 2015, when Republicans AGAIN lost seats in the Legislature and were AGAIN provided with irrelevant excuses for having done so. 

Oh the excuses!  One year it is Christie’s fault, the next it is Trump’s, and in between, the dog ate it!  New Jersey Republicans should set up their own public relations firm specializing in excuse-making.  Excuses aside, New Jersey’s GOP establishment should understand that the days of Republicans “holding their noses” and voting are over.

Republican voters are like anyone else.  Ignore them, say you are embarrassed to be with them, that you are “different” from them… and they will reward you in kind.  As an experiment, try some of that language next time you are in public with your wife and her family (or your husband and his).  Invite them out to a restaurant, then tell the host:  “I’m a different kind of member of this family, I’m not really one of them… They are a little, umm… backward.”  And say it so they hear it.  Say it loud, like ten million dollars’ worth of loud, and see how they like it.  Go ahead, try it.  Get back to us on it.

And that’s what the whole Hugin campaign was based on, wasn’t it?

“I’m a different kind of Republican.”  They are a little backward, a little off, but I’m with it.  I am a cool Republican.  Except that there are no “cool” Republicans.  Not in the minds of the media.  They only thought John McCain was cool when he was pissing on Bush.  The moment it became about him and Obama, John McCain became a troglodyte in the minds of the media.  After the dust settled, he became cool again, especially when pissing on other Republicans… especially when pissing on Trump.  But when he needed them, the media screwed John McCain.  So why even bother with them?

President Ronald Reagan understood the media (and they were a lot more condensed, more centralized, and a lot stronger back then).  That’s why he talked past them – to the people.  He didn’t give a damn about their approval.  He fed them the diet he wanted them to eat and even when they shit it out it contained the kernels of his message.  Reagan wasn’t afraid to be a Republican and to explain what that meant.  He had a message that he tested and honed by human contact – by speaking to people, engaging them, listening for the examples that would be used in his speeches, turning them on to his way of thinking, building a movement of ideas and about issues that mattered to people.

How many Republicans today, in New Jersey, can explain why they are Republicans or what Republicanism is?  At the big Republican show put on by the NJGOP last spring in Atlantic City, two professional Republican organizers up from Washington, DC, posed the same questions to attendees.  Not only was there no apparent theme or connectivity between the responses, even the organizers couldn’t adequately provide reasons or an explanation as to why they were there in the first place.  It was kind of sad.

What that confab did showcase, however, is the top-down meddling that has become the hallmark of the establishment in New Jersey, with a congressional candidate in a contested primary receiving top billing as the event’s featured speaker.  Yes, there was resource-draining meddling in districts 2, 5, and 11 – in an effort to promote candidates who would fit seamlessly with the statewide message being promoted by the campaign of Bob Hugin.

Instead of building a grassroots coalition of Republicans and reformers – of the kind Ralph Nader wrote about in his book, Unstoppable – the Hugin campaign  actually determined that their best chance lay in targeting “soft” Democrats and culturally “left-leaning” independents.  But these are the very same voters open to arguments from left-leaning media like CNN, MSNBC, NJ.com, and the Bergen Record.  So when the Hugin campaign pushed a relentlessly negative message about Menendez, those “independent arbiters” pushed back and were listened to. 

This allowed the Menendez campaign to focus on making the link between Hugin and Trump – which the media backed up.  The more the media pressed, the more Hugin denied Trump, the more he suppressed his own base.  Meanwhile, the Hugin campaign went right on churning out GOTV communications and efforts to turn out those “soft” Democrats and culturally “left-leaning” independents who had by now been convinced by the media that Hugin was a “bad” man who was lying about Menendez.  Gagged and gagged again.

In the days and weeks ahead we will be taking a proper, in depth, examination of the Republican operation in the Garden State.  It will be a necessary, warts and all, detailed review.  So stay tuned.

For now, we will leave you with this: 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  - Winston Churchill

InsiderNJ is owned by an insurance vendor grease machine: So why did they get to choose who’s who in NJ media?

There’s an old saying among machine politicians in Philadelphia.  It goes like this, “If you say you’re the boss, and nobody says you aint the boss, then you’re the boss.”

John F.X. Graham probably heard it back in the day, when he was prowling around amongst the ward healers in that sainted city of brotherly love.  Back when “ethnic” meant second or third generation Irish or Polish or Italian and individual neighborhoods developed their own dialects (yes, people really did talk like Rocky back then).

John F. X. moved to New Jersey where he followed the yellow brick road of selling insurance to government entities.  Unlike South Jersey’s George Norcross, John F. X. wasn’t really interested in building a political machine.  He was content with a money machine – the old-fashioned kind, the grease machine that uses campaign contributions to lube the representatives of the taxpayers, so that their money pumps out in a nice, steady stream.

Last December, the Observer wrote about John F.X. and his operation – the Fairview Insurance Agency – in a “special report” about “How Insurance Brokers Reap Public Funds Without Disclosure.”  It makes for interesting reading:

Insurance brokerages that make political donations are declining to disclose large amounts of money received indirectly from public entities.

One of the biggest goldmines for contractors in New Jersey is selling insurance plans to public entities, which employ hundreds of thousands of workers across the state.

But an Observer review of dozens of public documents shows that in some cases, it’s difficult or impossible to get a complete accounting of the money going back and forth between insurance brokerages — some of which are deep-pocketed campaign donors — and the public entities that award lucrative insurance contracts.

For instance, Fairview Insurance Agency Associates is one of the largest political donors in New Jersey, giving more than $120,000 to various candidates and committees in 2016, the ninth-highest among businesses in the state, according to the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency.

The Verona-based brokerage is also a big contractor, raking in at least $1.1 million through public contracts or agreements across New Jersey in 2016.

Under state law, the firm is required to report annually all of its political donations and public contracts to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, provided it gets at least $50,000 in public contracts and makes at least one political donation of any amount. Curiously, however, some of the money Fairview gets indirectly from public entities is then reported to ELEC as $0.

The effect is that, to the average observer reading ELEC reports, Fairview would appear to have made much less from public entities and institutions than it actually got — directly and indirectly — in a given year.

Observer reviewed ELEC disclosures for five companies, only three of which were required to itemize their contracts and donations.

A review of six ELEC disclosure forms, 29 invoices, four contracts and eight resolutions by school boards and local councils revealed a loophole in state law that allows brokerages such as Fairview to not report to ELEC tens of thousands of dollars, or more, that they receive as a result of working for governments or public entities.

In 93 cases, three brokerages reported receiving $0 from public agreements in 2016 on their disclosure forms filed with ELEC...  In one case, Observer found that Fairview was paid $54,000 indirectly from Jersey City’s school board but later disclosed $0 to ELEC.

It works like this. Brokerages — which sell insurance plans to local governments — are often paid commissions or fees by third-party companies. In this scenario, the actual contract does not go to the brokerage, but to the third-party company, while the brokerage still gets a cut of the business.

In some cases, the dollar amount of these fees or commissions can be traced back by filing public records requests with local governments. Some public entities that answered such requests from Observer provided copies of the original public contracts, which in turn detailed the actual fees or commissions paid to insurance brokerages that were reported to ELEC as $0.

In other cases, there is no mechanism to piece together what a third-party company paid to a brokerage in commissions. Some public entities did not disclose or could not say how much their brokers were paid indirectly by their contractors.

In March 2015, the Jersey City Board of Education passed a resolution to award Fairview a $54,000 contract to be the school district’s prescription insurance broker for fiscal year 2016.

Fairview did not end up receiving an actual contract. The school board struck a deal two months later with Express Scripts to manage its prescription benefits plan, and in that contract, it directed Express Scripts to pay Fairview $4,500 per month on its behalf, according to a copy of the contract provided by the Jersey City school board. The school district essentially paid someone else to pay Fairview.

In the end, Fairview reported that it received $0 in 2015 and 2016 from its work for the Jersey City Board of Education, according to its annual reports filed with ELEC. The firm noted that the amounts it disclosed “do not include commissions received from the insurance carriers.” (Observer, December 6, 2017) 

Campaign contributions flowing one-way, huge contracts flowing the other… minimal to no transparency. That’s New Jersey. 

The problem is… the Fairview Insurance Agency owns the news agency (InsiderNJ) that just handed out the designations as to who is who in New Jersey media. 

Yep, there’s John F. X. Graham who owns both the Fairview Insurance Agency and InsiderNJ (he holds titles of founder and publisher, respectively).  Michael J. Graham is Chief Operating Officer of both the Fairview Insurance Agency and InsiderNJ.  Ryan Graham is the Director of Business Development for the Fairview Insurance Agency and the Associate Publisher of InsiderNJ. 

That’s it folks… John F.X.’s grease machine has its own media mouthpiece with which to skew perceptions.  And that’s a handy thing to have in an age of hollowed out local coverage and a dearth of what was once called “investigative journalism.”  The press is now routinely used to punish the whistleblower, the taxpayer advocate, citizen activist, the underdog.  It’s easy to see why.

Now don’t get us wrong, just because John F.X. is all about the money… and the money… and the money… and the money… That doesn’t mean he’s not above playing the part of the noble, the enlightened, crony capitalist.  Hey, didn’t some notorious mob boss put a roof on a church?  Doesn’t Johnson & Johnson make up for failing to warn women that their product could cause uterine cancer by being oh so woke on LGBTQ?  It pays to have fashionable connections and to assist those connections in the higher causes of fashion.

John F.X. is a friend of Hillary.  Yes, that old wind bag.  You could forgive him being a friend of Bill because, heck, who wouldn’t want a night out on the town with Bill Clinton?  He’d make a Saturday night seem like a month of weekends.  But Hillary?  You know that’s just fashion.

Nevertheless, John F.X. has been called “a top Democrat fundraiser” by newspapers like the Bergen Record and the Newark Star-Ledger.  In addition to Hillary Clinton, John F.X. raised money for John Kerry in his 2004 presidential race, and he’s been a big giver to United States Senator Bob Menendez.  In fact, it was John F.X. who pushed the idea of Menendez on a national ticket as vice president:

In January 2008, the Jersey Journal along with other media outlets reported that “John F.X. Graham, one of Hillary Clinton’s National Finance Co-Chairs, thinks that New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez would make a great choice if Clinton wins the Democratic Primary… Graham fired off an email this morning to Clinton Campaign Manager Terry McAuliffe listing politicians who would make good vice presidential material, including the choices most often brought up:  Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Joe Biden.  But Menendez, a Clinton campaign national co-chair, would be the “most intriguing” choice, Graham wrote.”

“The name Richardson does not sound exactly Latino,” wrote Graham.  “The Latino voting block is becoming the most influential in this election, especially with the immigration and other economic issues confronting our prosperity.  For lack of a better term, he is the Latino Barack Obama with the experience.” 

Why would John F.X. think that encouraging people to vote along racial or ethnic lines is good public policy?  Has he not heard of the former Yugoslavia? 

Finally, John F.X. made his pronouncements while Senator Menendez was the subject of an FBI investigation.  Not that something like that matters when you are making a fashion statement.

Yes, so it seems that InsiderNJ can also be considered an outpost of the far-flung Clinton Empire.  Ahhhh, corruption at its most tasty. 

And it looks as though John F.X. is quite a big deal.  Even Wikileaks picked up loads of correspondence between John F.X. and his fellow Clintonistas.  Here is an example:

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.47.47 AM.png
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As far as the money goes, national contacts and a national reach does have its advantages.  We found dozens of John F.X.’s insurance agency’s outposts around the country.  All making him money – but northern New Jersey and Essex County in particular is his base.  It was reported in Politico (November 24, 2014) that Essex County Democrat Party boss Joe DiVincenzo’s son worked for John F.X.’s insurance agency.  He also held a full-time public job as well.   

So it was no surprise that the most corrupt political machine in the state – the Essex County Democrats – inducted John F.X. into their “Hall of Fame” in March of 2015.  InsiderNJ editor, Max Pizarro wrote the panegyric, which we suppose was less messy than the alternative. 

Now can we ask this again?  What are these people doing handing out the rankings on New Jersey journalists?  Shouldn’t some organization, like the Society of Professional Journalists, be doing it?  Or the Columbia School of Journalism?  Or anything but the god-damned grease machine itself!

Ten years ago, the authors of The Soprano State – two old-school investigative journalists – joined with journalists like Josh Margolin to decry the corruption tax that added to the cost paid by New Jersey taxpayers on everything to do with government.  Could they have guessed that, ten years later, not only would the tax be more imbedded and less transparent, but that the very news agencies responsible for exposing and reporting on it would now be wholly-owned subsidiaries of the same grease machine responsible for the corruption?

New Jersey… you can’t make this stuff up.

Why is the Grease machine picking who’s who in the media?

There’s an old saying among machine politicians in Philadelphia.  It goes like this, “If you say you’re the boss, and nobody says you aint the boss, then you’re the boss.”

John F.X. Graham probably heard it back in the day, when he was prowling around amongst the ward healers in that sainted city of brotherly love.  Back when “ethnic” meant second or third generation Irish or Polish or Italian and individual neighborhoods developed their own dialects (yes, people really did talk like Rocky back then).

John F. X. moved to New Jersey where he followed the yellow brick road of selling insurance to government entities.  Unlike South Jersey’s George Norcross, John F. X. wasn’t really interested in building a political machine.  He was content with a money machine – the old-fashioned kind, the grease machine that uses campaign contributions to lube the representatives of the taxpayers, so that their money pumps out in a nice, steady stream.

Last December, the Observer wrote about John F.X. and his operation – the Fairview Insurance Agency – in a “special report” about “How Insurance Brokers Reap Public Funds Without Disclosure.”  It makes for interesting reading:

Insurance brokerages that make political donations are declining to disclose large amounts of money received indirectly from public entities.

One of the biggest goldmines for contractors in New Jersey is selling insurance plans to public entities, which employ hundreds of thousands of workers across the state.

But an Observer review of dozens of public documents shows that in some cases, it’s difficult or impossible to get a complete accounting of the money going back and forth between insurance brokerages — some of which are deep-pocketed campaign donors — and the public entities that award lucrative insurance contracts. 

For instance, Fairview Insurance Agency Associates is one of the largest political donors in New Jersey, giving more than $120,000 to various candidates and committees in 2016, the ninth-highest among businesses in the state, according to the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency.

The Verona-based brokerage is also a big contractor, raking in at least $1.1 million through public contracts or agreements across New Jersey in 2016.

Under state law, the firm is required to report annually all of its political donations and public contracts to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, provided it gets at least $50,000 in public contracts and makes at least one political donation of any amount. Curiously, however, some of the money Fairview gets indirectly from public entities is then reported to ELEC as $0.

The effect is that, to the average observer reading ELEC reports, Fairview would appear to have made much less from public entities and institutions than it actually got — directly and indirectly — in a given year.

Observer reviewed ELEC disclosures for five companies, only three of which were required to itemize their contracts and donations.

A review of six ELEC disclosure forms, 29 invoices, four contracts and eight resolutions by school boards and local councils revealed a loophole in state law that allows brokerages such as Fairview to not report to ELEC tens of thousands of dollars, or more, that they receive as a result of working for governments or public entities. 

In 93 cases, three brokerages reported receiving $0 from public agreements in 2016 on their disclosure forms filed with ELEC...  In one case, Observer found that Fairview was paid $54,000 indirectly from Jersey City’s school board but later disclosed $0 to ELEC.

It works like this. Brokerages — which sell insurance plans to local governments — are often paid commissions or fees by third-party companies. In this scenario, the actual contract does not go to the brokerage, but to the third-party company, while the brokerage still gets a cut of the business. 

In some cases, the dollar amount of these fees or commissions can be traced back by filing public records requests with local governments. Some public entities that answered such requests from Observer provided copies of the original public contracts, which in turn detailed the actual fees or commissions paid to insurance brokerages that were reported to ELEC as $0.

In other cases, there is no mechanism to piece together what a third-party company paid to a brokerage in commissions. Some public entities did not disclose or could not say how much their brokers were paid indirectly by their contractors.

In March 2015, the Jersey City Board of Education passed a resolution to award Fairview a $54,000 contract to be the school district’s prescription insurance broker for fiscal year 2016.

Fairview did not end up receiving an actual contract. The school board struck a deal two months later with Express Scripts to manage its prescription benefits plan, and in that contract, it directed Express Scripts to pay Fairview $4,500 per month on its behalf, according to a copy of the contract provided by the Jersey City school board. The school district essentially paid someone else to pay Fairview.

In the end, Fairview reported that it received $0 in 2015 and 2016 from its work for the Jersey City Board of Education, according to its annual reports filed with ELEC. The firm noted that the amounts it disclosed “do not include commissions received from the insurance carriers.” (Observer, December 6, 2017) 

Campaign contributions flowing one-way, huge contracts flowing the other… minimal to no transparency. That’s New Jersey.

The problem is… the Fairview Insurance Agency owns the news agency (InsiderNJ) that just handed out the designations as to who is who in New Jersey media. 

Yep, there’s John F. X. Graham who owns both the Fairview Insurance Agency and InsiderNJ (he holds titles of founder and publisher, respectively).  Michael J. Graham is Chief Operating Officer of both the Fairview Insurance Agency and InsiderNJ.  Ryan Graham is the Director of Business Development for the Fairview Insurance Agency and the Associate Publisher of InsiderNJ. 

That’s it folks… John F.X.’s grease machine has its own media mouthpiece with which to skew perceptions.  And that’s a handy thing to have in an age of hollowed out local coverage and a dearth of what was once called “investigative journalism.”  The press is now routinely used to punish the whistleblower, the taxpayer advocate, citizen activist, the underdog.  It’s easy to see why.

Now don’t get us wrong, just because John F.X. is all about the money… and the money… and the money… and the money… That doesn’t mean he’s not above playing the part of the noble, the enlightened, crony capitalist.  Hey, didn’t some notorious mob boss put a roof on a church?  Doesn’t Johnson & Johnson make up for failing to warn women that their product could cause uterine cancer by being oh so woke on LGBTQ?  It pays to have fashionable connections and to assist those connections in the higher causes of fashion.

John F.X. is a friend of Hillary.  Yes, that old wind bag.  You could forgive him being a friend of Bill because, heck, who wouldn’t want a night out on the town with Bill Clinton?  He’d make a Saturday night seem like a month of weekends.  But Hillary?  You know that’s just fashion. 

Nevertheless, John F.X. has been called “a top Democrat fundraiser” by newspapers like the Bergen Record and the Newark Star-Ledger.  In addition to Hillary Clinton, John F.X. raised money for John Kerry in his 2004 presidential race, and he’s been a big giver to United States Senator Bob Menendez.  In fact, it was John F.X. who pushed the idea of Menendez on a national ticket as vice president:

In January 2008, the Jersey Journal along with other media outlets reported that “John F.X. Graham, one of Hillary Clinton’s National Finance Co-Chairs, thinks that New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez would make a great choice if Clinton wins the Democratic Primary… Graham fired off an email this morning to Clinton Campaign Manager Terry McAuliffe listing politicians who would make good vice presidential material, including the choices most often brought up:  Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Joe Biden.  But Menendez, a Clinton campaign national co-chair, would be the “most intriguing” choice, Graham wrote.”

“The name Richardson does not sound exactly Latino,” wrote Graham.  “The Latino voting block is becoming the most influential in this election, especially with the immigration and other economic issues confronting our prosperity.  For lack of a better term, he is the Latino Barack Obama with the experience.” 

Why would John F.X. think that encouraging people to vote along racial or ethnic lines is good public policy?  Has he not heard of the former Yugoslavia? 

Finally, John F.X. made his pronouncements while Senator Menendez was the subject of an FBI investigation.  Not that something like that matters when you are making a fashion statement.

Yes, so it seems that InsiderNJ can also be considered an outpost of the far-flung Clinton Empire.  Ahhhh, corruption at its most tasty. 

And it looks as though John F.X. is quite a big deal.  Even Wikileaks picked up loads of correspondence between John F.X. and his fellow Clintonistas.  Here is an example:

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As far as the money goes, national contacts and a national reach does have its advantages.  We found dozens of John F.X.’s insurance agency’s outposts around the country.  All making him money – but northern New Jersey and Essex County in particular is his base.  It was reported in Politico (November 24, 2014) that Essex County Democrat Party boss Joe DiVincenzo’s son worked for John F.X.’s insurance agency.  He also held a full-time public job as well. 

So it was no surprise that the most corrupt political machine in the state – the Essex County Democrats – inducted John F.X. into their “Hall of Fame” in March of 2015.  InsiderNJ editor, Max Pizarro wrote the panegyric, which we suppose was less messy than the alternative. 

Now can we ask this again?  What are these people doing handing out the rankings on New Jersey journalists?  Shouldn’t some organization, like the Society of Professional Journalists, be doing it?  Or the Columbia School of Journalism?  Or anything but the god-damned grease machine itself!

Ten years ago, the authors of The Soprano State – two old-school investigative journalists – joined with journalists like Josh Margolin to decry the corruption tax that added to the cost paid by New Jersey taxpayers on everything to do with government.  Could they have guessed that, ten years later, not only would the tax be more imbedded and less transparent, but that the very news agencies responsible for exposing and reporting on it would now be wholly-owned subsidiaries of the same grease machine responsible for the corruption?

New Jersey… you can’t make this stuff up.