InsiderNJ breaks ethics rules (changes GOP press release posted on their website)

For the second time in two weeks, the InsiderNJ blog has adulterated a press release issued by an elected Republican from Northwest New Jersey.  This is unethical and non-journalist (read political) conduct, according to the Society of Professional Journalists and a clear breach of journalistic ethics.   

As one longtime editor noted:  “It is one thing to write a story based on a press release, but to change the content of a press release in order to place that release in a bad light is highly unprofessional.”  He added:  “A press release belongs to the party issuing it.  The story that comes from it is a different matter.”

Is this a case of political bias against Republicans or is it about advancing an agenda of greed? 

InsiderNJ is owned by John F.X. Graham.  Graham is an insurance vendor to government entities and has been sniffing around Northwest New Jersey recently looking to get his snout in the trough.  Of course, with John F.X., his snout is not enough – he’ll want to get all four trotters in there too. 

Unhappily for John F.X. he’s been less than successful in greasing the locals – despite having good operatives in that part of New Jersey, courtesy of Fred Snowflack and the far-flung escapades of the one and only Jay Lassiter.  So is this a case of pique… or a warning shot by Fairview Insurance Agency? 

Time to break out the OPRAs…  Yeah, you could write a book about the Graham family and Fairview Insurance.  Maybe someone will.

In December 2017, 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.

John F. X. Graham 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.

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. 

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.

Tom Malinowski needs to quit lying to his donors.

Tom Malinowski needs to quit lying.

We all understand that he needs money.  Every candidate does.  But to use the confirmation of a United States Supreme Court Justice to get it is an injustice to his donors.  One of them was so pissed-off that he sent us the Malinowski campaign’s latest fundraising plea… the one in which he pretends that (1) the next Supreme Court nominee will be confirmed after the next Congress is seated in January 2019, and (2) that the United States House of Representatives has something to do with confirming Justices of the Supreme Court.

Hey Tommy, did you fail to pay attention to that lesson in your high school civics class?  The United States Senate, not the House of Representatives, confirms Justices of the Supreme Court.  Maybe you think you are running for a different office?

And here is another lie by Tom Malinowski… or his campaign (or both)…

“Big Money has been chipping away at the integrity of our elections at a breakneck pace since Supreme Court Justice Kennedy authored the decision on Citizens United. We risk an even bigger hit with Trump’s Supreme Court justice pick, Brett Kavanaugh… We can’t allow another Big Money justice get to the Supreme Court.”

Hey, it didn’t begin with Citizens United and Princeton University proved that!

In fact, every good-government group knows that the problem started decades before Citizens United.  They also know that BOTH political parties are funded by special interests looking out for number one. 

Tom Malinowski’s old boss – Hillary Rodham Clinton, Incorporated – could teach a master class at how to make government work for NUMBER ONE.  And like so many Democrats, she tried to play the game of saying she wasn’t taking money from corporate PACs, while taking millions from corporate leadership and lobbyists.  Even the Left called her out on it…

So quit the b.s. Tommy… nobody is more BIG MONEY than your old boss Hillary Clinton.  Stop spreading the fantasy that ending Citizens United is all that needs to be done.  That is a lie.  Tell us the truth about what YOU intend to do about ending BIG MONEY’s chokehold on Congress… and don’t raise money by inferring you will vote against Brett Kavanaugh.  Sheesh.

NJ.com strains its sphincter with Independence Day editorial

Someone should tell brother Tom Moran that babies don’t come out that end.

The day before yesterday the editorial board of what used to be the Newark Star Ledger gathered in the staff convenience to have a collective dump.  Yesterday they published their incitement to (riot?/ do someone bodily harm?) and titled it:  “On this Independence Day, striving for a new birth of freedom.” 

No, this isn’t the second coming of Thomas Paine.  What they offered up was a collection of selective complaints, some of which they have loudly supported when applied to those they don’t approve of.  For instance, the editorial board cheers on a global corporation like Facebook when it refuses service to those it disapproves of… but let some small-time baker do it and it becomes something to start a civil war over.  There’s no logic or balance to these guys.

For Tom Moran and his bunch, “freedom” is a subjective construct limited to people who they like.  If they don’t think you are a “good” person, as they define it, then they sincerely believe that you shouldn’t have “freedom”.  Heck, they don’t even believe you should have the right to speak or earn a living to sustain yourself.

They cry about ICE sending parents who break the law to one detention center and juveniles to another but ignore the fact that every jurisdiction in America does the same thing every day.  An ACLU study from 2017 shows that of the 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States – 80 percent are mothers.  And here is something even more shocking:  60 percent of the women behind bars in America have not been convicted of any crime but are simply awaiting trial.

Where is the outcry about separating them from their children?  Where are the rallies? 

The reason for their incarceration is the biggest threat to Freedom in America today:  Money.  Those women don’t have any or enough to count for anything in our judicial process… and so they rot in jail… separated from their children.

The NJ.com editorial board – part of a corporation owned by two of the richest billionaires in the world – conveniently left out how the accumulation of wealth and power serves to undermine and destroy democracy.  Sure, they quoted President Ronald Reagan (who they hated, by the way).  It was Reagan who reminded us that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

Well, a recent Princeton University study concluded that America has already passed from being a democracy and is now in the ranks of oligarchy.  What?  You didn’t read about it in the Star-Ledger or any other of the organs owned by the oligarchs who the NJ.com editorial board work for?  There is only one battle worth fighting but Moran and his buddies dare not speak its name...

If you want to resist something… resist this! 

Of course, it has nothing to do with President Trump or any of the issues being pushed on us by NJ.com.  We’ve been on this trajectory for 40 years.  The oligarchs who own NJ.com want us to ignore what they’re up to.  They want to keep us fighting each other.

Their campaign of illusion and distraction – to pit working Americans against each other – is designed to keep their wealth and power secure.  Now they want to abolish ICE!  Isn’t it time we abolish the power they use to shout down democracy?

President Reagan reminded us that we don’t pass freedom down to our children through our bloodstream.  “It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”  The oligarchs who own NJ.com, the power they represent, and their ability to pervert democracy is an existential threat to freedom in America today.  We should reject the attempts to distract and divide us put forward by the amanuenses who do their bidding.

Democrat Menendez broke federal law. Star-Ledger asks Republican to quit race.

It's a severe case of payback for daring to ask a question.

A day after the Senate Ethics Committee's "severe admonishment" of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Steve Lonegan, a conservative Republican congressional candidate in CD05 wrote to the Star-Ledger editorial board and asked when they might comment on the Senate Ethics Committee's action against Menendez.

"The Senate Ethics Committee said Thursday that Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who avoided conviction in a federal corruption trial last year, violated federal law and Senate rules in accepting unreported gifts from a friend and political ally." (Washington Post, April 26, 2018)

It's now been five days, and the Star-Ledger has yet to comment on Senator Menendez.  Instead of making a statement about the corrupt Democrat , Star-Ledger editor Tom Moran quickly scratched around for a Republican to attack.  It's called deflection.

Moran claimed that a 12-year-old unfounded allegation from a former Democrat candidate for mayor in Lonegan's hometown, long known as crank, and noted for his serial accusations of officials in Bergen County, amounted to  a "gay slur" even though the man alleging the slur isn't gay.  Despite there being no proof to the allegation, when Lonegan asked about Menendez, Moran replied in writing to Lonegan:

"We are also writing about the accusation against you making a gay slur, as you know.  We believe that's grounds for you to step down from the race."

Unfortunately, for the Star-Ledger, while editor Moran was writing these lines, a New Jersey court was confirming that the accuser Moran based his attack on had no veracity at all.  The case was dismissed.  When this was pointed out to Moran, he published anyway.

It is no surprise to those who have been following Moran that the Star-Ledger editor doesn't believe in fairness or due process.  After all, in another Star-Ledger editorial (from 2013) Moran labeled the Constitution as a “source of our woes” and suggested that President Obama or a future President Clinton be given the power to appoint 10 senators and 50 congressmen to serve “at large”. 

Five days on and still no word from Star-Ledger demanding that corrupt Democrat Bob Menendez step down from the U.S. Senate.  Maybe they will never comment? 

You can read the Ethics Committee's full statement here:

https://www.ethics.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=49C12C75-7A26-4FE6-B070-19FCEF4D7532

APP exposes corruption at NJ municipal courts

The Gannett publishing company is the largest in America by circulation -- reaching over 21 million people every day.  Its flagship in New Jersey is the Asbury Park Press (APP) -- the second most read newspaper in the state.

This week the Asbury Park Press has continued its watchdog investigations, this time focusing on the corruption in local municipal courts in New Jersey and the too cozy relationship between court employees and the local governments who pay their salaries.  Reporter Kala Kachmar is heading the APP's watchdog investigation.  She began her series...

"Somewhere in between burying her mother and taking care of her sick father in Maryland, Neptune resident Karen Marsh forgot to renew the licenses for her two rescue poodles.

Instead of paying the $17-per-dog renewal fee, she was compelled to spend a March day in municipal court and then pay $122 in fines and fees. The total would have been $178, but the judge suspended one of the fines in exchange for a guilty plea.

Marsh became prey to a system that increasingly treats hundreds of thousands of residents each year as human ATMs.

Many cash-strapped municipalities have turned to the law for new revenue...

Towns have the power to pass new rules or increase fines on old ones. And just like the singular judge-jury-and-jailer of the old Western days, a town first enforces the higher fines through its police force, then sends the defendant to its local court — which is headed by a judge appointed by the town leaders who started the revenue quest in the first place.

While municipal judges are sworn to follow the rule of law and judicial ethics, the pressure to bring in the money is potent in New Jersey, lawyers and former judges told the Press. In Eatontown, email records between town officials showed that increasing revenue generation by the local court was the main reason the council replaced the municipal judge in 2013..."

You can read the full report here:

http://www.app.com/story/news/investigations/watchdog/investigations/2016/11/27/exclusive-inside-municipal-court-cash-machine/91233216/

A follow-up report explains that the New Jersey Legislature is planning to address the corruption at municipal courts, with the Chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee  calling the "fairness of the system into question" and for the Legislature to "study municipal court reform."  Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (Republican Budget Officer) is promising to make it happen this year and plans on holding hearings across the state to understand the full extent of this local corruption -- case by case.  He calls the current system a "municipal money grab" and promises to explore "legal remedies."

According to the state Administrative Office of Courts, over 75 percent of the more than 4.5 million cases handled by municipal courts statewide are adjudicated with a guilty plea or a plea deal and some kind of payment to the court.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently studying how municipal court corruption impacts the state's residents, especially the poor.

The APP report notes that the New Jersey State Bar Association earlier this year assembled a panel to study the independence of municipal judges and whether the political pressure they face through their appointment impacts decision-making. The panel is still receiving testimony and hasn't yet disclosed its findings.

The APP report also notes that "the municipal court system can be altered or abolished by an act of the Legislature at any time."

It cites a former member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Courts, who said that "the first step in fixing the broken municipal court system is to professionalize staff."  Most prosecutors and judges are part-time employees who work in multiple towns. 

Blogs like More Monmouth Musings and Sussex County Watchdog have received tip-offs about local municipal corruption in the past.  If you have anything to pass along confidentially, please contact More Monmouth Musings at artvg@aol.com or Sussex County Watchdog at info@sussexcountywatchdog.com.