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If you see politics as a form of bloodsport, there’s nothing more fun that seeing a politician start attacking a reporter. That almost without exception means the charges have hit a weak spot, that the incumbent has little to no valid defense and instead starts lashing out.
In this case, it’s particularly amusing to see New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the would-be pugilist. We are seeing that while Garden State pols may be great on the offensive in bare-knucle fights, they have a glass jaw when put on the defensive.
Here, the combatants are International Business Times reporter, David Sirota, against various officials with close ties to Christie who administer state pension funds. Sirota has been making a mini-speciality of state pay-to-play scandals. From an earlier post on the New Jersey contretemps:
…the IBT journalist has uncovered questionable connections with two prominent figures, Charlie Baker, who is a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts, and former New Jersey pension fund chief Robert Grady.
First, a short background on the Baker story: Sirota showed how that Baker made a $10,000 donation to the New Jersey Republican Party shortly before Christie officials gave Baker’s firm a pension management contract. That donation ran afoul of the Garden State’s pay-to-play rules that bar contributions from executives and partners of entities that manage state pension funds.
New Jersey launched an investigation into Sirota’s charges and announced that as a result, it was exiting the contract with Baker’s firm.
In a sign that Sirota is drawing blood, Christie himself, as well as members of his administration, have launched personal attacks on Sirota rather than making honest rebuttals to his charges (another strategy has been to misrepresent the stringent requirements of the state pay-to-play law)….
Sirota has also been probing the relationships among state pension fund investments and the holdings of long-standing Christie friend and pension fund overseer Robert Grady. The Christie administration has denied, forcefully, that Grady had any financial interest in firms that benefitted from New Jersey pension fund investments on his watch. That word “interest” is critical, because that’s the term of art in the New Jersey pay-to-play law. And in reading the discussion that follows, bearing in mind that New Jersey rules bar state officials from “being involved” in “any official manner” in which they have direct or indirect personal or financial interest.
Yves again. Sirota documented multiple connections between New Jersey pension contributions and firms in which Grady has a role. While yours truly is no attorney, Grady’s involvement certainly looks to extend well into the “indirect personal or financial interest” territory and could well amount to a direct interest. And Grady was involved in an official capacity, having tabled and voted in favor of investing in the Blackstone fund that had or wound up having relationships with firms in which he had a financial interest.
So what is the Chris Christie response? The Big Lie.
In a press conference, (see starting at the 17 minute mark), Christie asserts that New Jersey officials don’t vote on specific investments.
That’s patently false, as Sirota already demonstrated, with links to state records of the votes:
Gov. Christie recently suggested that Grady’s State Investment Council plays no decision-making role in considerations of individual investments. “They don’t make the decisions on the individual things that we buy,” Christie said at a press conference last week. “They set out categories of the way they want to see it done, and then professionals that we hire, both in the Department of Treasury and outside, have made those choices.”
In fact, state records document that the council explicitly voted to approve the Blackstone investment.
Sirota issued a longer-form takedown today. Key sections:
“There’s no appointed people in my administration who make those [investment] decisions,” he [Christie] said Monday in Connecticut in response to reporters’ questions. “Those decisions are all made by the folks in the Department of Treasury who are career employees, and the appointed folks that are on the pension board, both Republicans and Democrats, don’t make the decisions about individual investments. They say, ‘This is the general category,’ and then they let the professionals make those decisions.”
He added: “Nobody from me on down [in] the governor’s office has any input into where we invest our money nor do the people that we appoint to the pension board. They set general goals — and by the way, there’s both union representatives and administration representatives on that board — and all of them have said they have absolutely no input into where the money is invested.”….
The minutes of the State Investment Council (which Christie appoints, and whose official mission is to “formulate policies governing the investment of [state] funds”), show his appointees not only oversee the state’s due diligence reviews of specific managers but also offer guidance to New Jersey Treasury Department officials about managers. Christie appointees at times cast votes on specific investments and have spearheaded the recruitment and subsequent appointment of the official who runs the state’s Division of Investment.
According to minutes of the State Investment Council, most of New Jersey’s investments in private equity, hedge funds, venture capital and other so-called alternative investments are reviewed by Christie appointees on the Investment Policy Committee (a subcommittee of the State Investment Council). Typically, the minutes show State Investment Council Chairman Robert Grady reports the committee “discussed the investment and was satisfied that the due diligence that was performed was adequate and appropriate…..”
The State Investment Council debates the merits of specific investments in open session, offering advice to Department of Treasury staffers about the specific money manager being given a New Jersey pension contract. Because the council has influence over the selection of specific managers, Grady and another Christie appointee, real estate investor Jeffrey Oram, have recused themselves from deliberations that involve managers to whom they might have a financial connection
Yves here. There’d be no need for recusals if the State Investment Council had no input into decisions. The balance of the article provides examples of the State Investment Council approving or voting down multbillion dollar proposed investments with specific managers.
Not surprisingly, some New Jersey sites, such as the New Jersey Politicker, appear to be incapable of doing reporting and are instead running what looks like dictation from the Christie camp.
So will this scandal hurt Chris Christie on his turf? If he can get enough of the lapdog local media to parrot his patent misrepresentations, he may be able to beat back the pension fund brouhaha. But the more he tangles with Sirota, particularly since the records clearly support Sirota’s charges, the more he calls national attention to the scandal. So we can only hope that Christie keeps digging his hole deeper. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.