Corzine gets his handpicked ethics advisory board to tell him it’s A-OK.

What was it Jon Corzine said when he was inaugurated?

Oh yes. That’s right.  “Hold me accountable.”

From our friends at

Well that was then and this is now.  And now Gov. Corzine, who has managed to punt on pushing a promised tougher round of ethics reforms in the state, has apparently found a new way around inconvenient truths.

He gets his handpicked ethics advisory board to tell him it’s A-OK.

The latest example of this was the somewhat confusing, connect-the-dots case involving Xanadu.

Yes, the proposed Meadowlands shopping center/entertainment complex, inexplicably named the same as  an Olivia Newton-John song, is raising eyebrows yet again.

This time, on Thursday, just after he helpfully signs a bill to help fund a $200 million aquarium at the site, he mentions that “one of my closest friends” is a partner in the investment consortium that underwrote Xanadu’s $1.5 billion bailout in 2006, according to The Record.

That friend is Daniel Neidich, a Democratic fundraiser and an ex-colleague of Corzine’s at Goldman Sachs.  Neidich also heads a nonprofit that the governor is a founding board member of – a nonprofit that incidentally was awarded a $2 million contract with the state, but that the company later withdrew not wanting to be a distraction.

Look out Mr. Neidich.  Here comes another one of those distractions.

Corzine never told anybody about the fact that his buddy Neidich – who he had to know was controversial after the blow-up involving the nonprofit Child Study Center – was the CEO of Dune Real Estate, a hedge fund which was one of the three investors that bailed out Xanadu.

No, he casually let that drop Thursday – AFTER he signed the bill that would allow an aquarium on the site. But no worries New Jersey – the Governor’s Ethics Advisory Panel told him it was OK.

This of course, was from the same panel that said Carla Katz’s e-mails to the governor during contract negotiations were just fine too, and did not need to be disclosed. The same e-mails that a Superior Court judge later found created a clear potential for a conflict of interest, when he ordered them to be released.

“I sought advice from the Governor’s Advisory Ethics Panel,” he wrote in an odd addendum at the end of a press release citing a list of bills he had signed. “The panel advised that, as there has been full disclosure, these circumstances do not create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
So, if we are to read this correctly, since Corzine disclosed it after the fact, it’s fine. No reason to make mention of it while the legislation was being considered, or to give time for any questions to arise.
“This bill required direct action by the governor. Xanadu’s previous business did not,” Robert Corrales, a Corzine spokesman, told The Record.
But here’s the thing. When you start drawing connect-the-dot charts, and the dots all connect, at the very least, you have an appearance of a conflict of interest. Especially when you realize that everything involving Xanadu has required direct action by the governor.  Like when he directly acted in 2006 by ordering his economic development czar, and Goldman Sachs buddy, Gary D. Rose, to work on a $1.5 billion bailout of Xanadu.  Or how he, as the Record notes, directly “boasted about his administration’s role in restructuring the Xanadu deal.”
So why oh why would he feel compelled to get an opinion now (which we should also mention was apparently just a verbal opinion, not a written one, so there is no record of what was asked of the panel, or what was disclosed).
It couldn’t have anything to do with the inconvenient truth that Rose, according to The Record,  owned stock and mutual funds in Goldman Sachs, or that the Wall Street company – an early investor in Xanadu, stood to lose some or all of the $1.1 billion it invested in the project, could it?
Or that Rose, as of March 2006, owned an interest in Dune Real Estate, according to The Record?
Deborah Howlett, Corzine’s communications director, dismissed such questions as “ridiculous.”

“If Gary Rose had stock in Pepsi would it mean we’d have to remove all the soda machines from the State House?” Howlett told The Record, later adding, “You wouldn’t even know about Gary Rose’s holdings if we didn’t disclose them.”

Well, yes, but isn’t that the point? The administration is supposed to lay all its cards out on the table, upfront, with full disclosure, and not dribble them out when it suits their time and choosing.  But that’s apparently Corzine’s way – it’s how he handled the disclosure of his financial relationship with ex-girlfriend, and former union leader, Carla Katz. It’s how he handled their e-mail controversy. It’s how he handled asset monetization. And it appears to be how he’s handling this.

But public confidence and trust in New Jersey officials is so shaky these days that full disclosure isn’t something that can be doled out piecemeal. Especially when it involves friends making money.

When you wait to make the disclosure after the fact, it only raises suspicions in people’s minds that there’s something in the Meadowlands projects that stinks.

And we’re not talking about the landfill.


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