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Governor woos substantial donors (McGreevey charges lobbyists $25,000 for 1-on-1 meetings)
The Record (NJ) ^ | Sunday, November 24, 2002 | JEFF PILLETS

Posted on 11/24/2002 6:54:38 AM PST by dead

Trenton Bureau

Governor McGreevey has become the star attraction in a series of intimate, invitation-only fund-raisers catering to select lobbyists and their clients - a unique role for a sitting governor.

Six of Trenton's most influential lobbyists, speaking last week in separate interviews with The Record, said their firms had recently been approached by the Democratic State Committee and told the governor was available to attend small gatherings of lobbyists and their clients if they agreed to contribute money.

"The price was $25,000," said one longtime Democratic lobbyist who received a call from the state committee in early October. "I was floored. They were asking for a command performance. The governor was involved. It's awful hard to say 'no' to something like that."

All six of the lobbyists said calls came from Stephanie Babek, the Democratic State Committee's finance chairwoman. Babek, they said, told them she was attempting to arrange intimate gatherings at which contributors would be assured of having one-on-one time with the governor. Babek did not return calls or e-mails last week.

"When my clients heard they would be one of only about a dozen or so people sitting down with the governor, checkbooks started opening," said another Democratic lobbyist who attended a recent fund-raiser in Newark.

Officials for McGreevey and the Democratic State Committee said they would not release a list of fund-raisers the governor has attended, although his spokesman acknowledged that McGreevey has attended "three or four" small events in recent weeks.

Kevin Davitt, the governor's press secretary, said McGreevey attended the affairs "because he was invited, just like a wedding.''

McGreevey, he said, is dedicated to building the Democratic Party, but not at the cost of selling influence to special interests.

"Money does not buy influence with this governor," Davitt said. "Attending a fund-raiser does not mean you're for sale."

Davitt said it was "highly doubtful" that the state committee was explicitly offering access to McGreevey in exchange for money. "These lobbyists who are complaining are the ones in the influence-peddling business, not us," he said.

Rich McGrath, a spokesman for the Democratic State Committee, declined to talk about specifics of the committee's fund-raising program. He said all contributions to the party have been reported to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

"We have nothing to hide," McGrath said. "This governor won't take a cup of coffee for free."

McGrath said that while the governor finds fund raising "distasteful," he feels a strong duty to "uphold Democratic policies and principles."

"Jim McGreevey resurrected this party on his shoulders." McGrath said. "He's got the political responsibility to keep it strong."

But lobbyists who attended the fund-raisers said McGreevey's participation in such intimate settings went far beyond the traditional party-building role of a sitting governor.

On Oct. 25, McGreevey met with about a dozen contributors in a small room at the Nassau Inn in Princeton. Several lobbyists who were in attendance said the governor stayed for more than 90 minutes and had private chats with everyone in the room.

One lobbyist who paid more than $2,500 to attend the meeting said he told McGreevey about a number of specific problems his clients were facing.

"He didn't make any promises, but I got the feeling he was sympathetic," said the lobbyist, whose firm represents commercial and industrial interests throughout New Jersey.

It is not unusual for sitting governors on both sides of the political aisle to lend their names to fund-raisers that benefit the state party. Former Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean created a special "Governor's Club" for top contributors who attended quarterly dinners with him.

Fellow Republican Christie Whitman carried on the tradition, attending an annual dinner for 100 to 120 high contributors who also went on an annual trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the state's congressional delegation.

Robin Visconi, who was Republican Party finance chairwoman during the Whitman administration, said the Governor's Club was open to people who contributed $25,000 in a calendar year. She said the state committee never offered private meetings with Whitman at fund-raisers.

"She went once a year to a dinner that was highly publicized. Everyone knew about it. The papers covered it," Visconi said.

The lobbyists, veterans of both parties, say McGreevey is proving to be a far more formidable party builder than any of his immediate predecessors. They say the governor and his state committee are quietly but aggressively canvassing lobbyists and law firms for dollars in a systematic way.

At the same time, they say, the McGreevey administration is pressuring the state's marquee lobbying firms, typically headed by partners from both major parties, to end all but token contributions to the Republicans.

Two lobbyists say that John Lynch, the former Democratic state legislator and influential McGreevey backer, called several firms to pressure them into giving more to the Democrats. Lynch's office did not return phone calls Friday.

"I was told in no uncertain terms that splitting my contributions 50-50 between the parties was no longer good enough," said one Democratic lobbyist whose firm represents dozens of clients. "The new rule is more like 80-20, or even 90-10. I'm a loyal Democrat, the biggest partisan you've ever seen. But I've never been so angry."

The strategy appears to be paying off. The Democratic State Committee has raised $8.2 million since the beginning of the year, compared to the $3 million raised by their Republican counterparts, state election records show.

All the lobbyists who spoke to The Record did so on condition that their names not be used.

"I can't be identified in any way, any way at all, or I'm dead meat," said one Republican who is a partner at a prominent Trenton firm. "My clients will be shut down in a second. Access, contracts, boom, just gone." Said another lobbyist: "Look, all governors raise money for their party. But this is no Governor's Club ball. This is a shakedown and the message is clear: Pony up, or else."

There is nothing illegal about a sitting governor or any other politician appearing at a political fund-raising event. State election officials point out that the governor can raise as much cash as he wants for a political party, as long as he does not use taxpayer money in the process.

"There really are no limits," said Fred Herrmann, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. "About the only restriction is that he cannot conduct a fund-raiser on state property or use a state phone to solicit money."

Lee Moore, a spokesman for the state Department of Law and Public Safety, said Friday that he would have to consult the governor's office before answering questions about the state fund-raising laws. Moore did not respond to subsequent calls.

Several lobbyists who spoke to The Record said it was clear that the governor would not attend if a contribution minimum of $25,000 were not promised. Lobbyists were encouraged to round up a small number of their clients, whose contributions would meet the goal. For example, a lobbyist could invite 10 people at $2,500 each, or five at $5,000 each.

One Democrat who attended an Oct. 11 fund-raiser with about 25 contributors at the Newark Club said all his clients at the dinner were given private sitdowns with McGreevey.

The event was organized by McManimon & Scotland, a prominent bond counsel firm in Newark.

Contribution reports filed by the Democratic State Committee show that both principals of the law firm and six other partners gave $2,500 apiece. A number of calls placed to the law firm and several partners were not returned.

"At one point, the governor disappeared and I was told that he was having closed-door meetings with certain contributors," said another lobbyist who was at the Newark Club. "I guess I didn't give enough for a private session."

Officials of several government watchdog groups condemned the fund-raising program and said they were particularly troubled by the state committee's apparent offer of access to the governor in exchange for a specific dollar amount.

"It's almost an advertisement for a quid pro quo," said Bill Allison, a spokesman for The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan group in Washington, D.C. "They're literally telling lobbyists, 'Hey, here's your chance to influence public policy for $25,000.'"

Larry Makinson, a senior fellow at the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, said McGreevey's invitation-only fund-raisers remind him of the Clinton administration's infamous coffees, in which the White House marketed time with the president in exchange for contributions.

"People in New Jersey have got to be asking themselves who is really making the laws," Makinson said. "The only reason lobbyists exist is to influence policy. By promising access at a specific dollar price, the party is sending the unmistakable message that government in New Jersey is for sale. That is a terrible message to send."

Jeff Pillets' e-mail address is

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: New Jersey
KEYWORDS: fundraiser; lobbyist; mcgreevey
Politians don't even pretend they're not for sale in New Jersey.
1 posted on 11/24/2002 6:54:38 AM PST by dead
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To: dead; Fzob
At least they aren't calling them coffee clutches, like the Clinton's crime machine did.

New Jersey politicans at least are up front about selling themselves to the highest bidder

Honest crooks, who would have thought of it!!

2 posted on 11/24/2002 7:08:59 AM PST by JZoback
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To: dead
See, this is just proof of the right wing bias of talk radio, Limbaugh and the internet. Information like this will NEVER appear in the NYT, on CNN, or on ABCCBSNBC and its inclusion, here, can only be intended as anti-democrat progaganda. Everyone knows the filth, corruption and dishonesty of democrats and to print information about each new example/instance is just an attempt to discredit them. Again, proof!

And, the article is factually incorrect. The 25K is not a fee to access the governor. It is the cost of entry into the senate appointment pool. Every time a NJ person "visits" with McGreevy and pays the 25K, the visitor puts one of his cards in a large bowl. The deal is that when Lautenberg needs to be replaced (before the end of 2003 for "recently discovered health reasons"), his replacement will be selected from the cards in the bowl. It gives Torricelli and many of his professional colleagues a fair chance (as long as McGreevy doesn't cheat).

3 posted on 11/24/2002 7:20:46 AM PST by Tacis
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To: JZoback
Thanks for the ping

Officials of several government watchdog groups condemned the fund-raising program and said they were particularly troubled by the state committee's apparent offer of access to the governor in exchange for a specific dollar amount.

Troubled???? This must be illegal. How can this possibly not be illegal.

4 posted on 11/24/2002 7:21:31 AM PST by Fzob
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To: dead
Ready to move back to NY? BTW, what were you doing up at 4 AM this morning?!
5 posted on 11/24/2002 7:26:37 AM PST by Jim Dandy
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To: dead
You are more likely to garner favor by bringing McGreedy a little boy


6 posted on 11/24/2002 7:36:05 AM PST by Elle Bee
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To: dead
McGreedy knows that he's heading straight into a re-election disaster come November, 2004. The first two years have been nothing but series of train wrecks, from the Golan Sipel "affair" to the Santiago gambit.

Unless Republicans back a complete moron in the next election, Jim is out on his ear. However, there's always the Lautenberg seat, should Frank decide that being in the minority doesn't suit him (no big surprise there). If Jim McGreevey is crashing and burning in the polls, he might just jump to the Senate (where re-election is more likely), or, should he appear to be heading back to Trenton for a second term, one of his supporters (Sharpe James?) will be appointed to fill in for Lautenberg.

Either way, I think that Lautenberg will be gone before the next Governor's election regardless of the polls, since Democrats cannot take the chance that a Republican win the Governorship like Whitman did and thereby have the power to appoint a Senator.

Of course, that's just my opinion, your mileage may vary....

7 posted on 11/24/2002 7:38:20 AM PST by par4
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To: Fzob
"How can this possibly not be illegal"

Laws? Who need laws when the NJSC, doesn't follow them.

We are talking about democrats, laws only apply to republicans when democrats are not involved

8 posted on 11/24/2002 7:45:33 AM PST by JZoback
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To: par4
I still think McGreevey is going to appoint Donna Dees Thomases to replace Lautencelli (who won't last 2 years in the Senate.)

Donna is (if you read about her in the mainstream media) the "suburban Short Hills mom" who founded the Million Mom March after Columbine, because she wanted to save the children.

In actuality, she's a Democratic party insider, good friend of Hillary (her sister-in-law spearheaded the emptying of Vince Foster's office before the police arrived), former aide to Dan Rather, and McGreevey's foot-in-the-door to the Clinton corruption cesspool.

He is done as governor.

9 posted on 11/24/2002 4:09:03 PM PST by dead
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To: dead
I seems that we are in agreement that Frank is gone before McGreedy leaves office (either voluntarily or by a resounding defeat at the polls), but your theory is interesting. I had forgotten about Donna, since she has been keeping a low profile for the last year, which may be a good thing in her favor.

Many people have suggested that the designated hitter for the Senate seat would be Flim Flam Florio, but I don't think that he's a viable candidate. My thoughts on Sharpe James stem from the strong opposition to the Newark Arena. If the arena falls flat, Mayor-for-Life James is going to want some serious payback. Also, he's taken about all he can out of Newark, so there's nowhere for him to go but to Washington for a new oddessy in search of the Golden Fleece.

Anyway, I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the people in the final cut begin their lobbying for the post. There may be a few skeletons revealed during the preliminary talks.

10 posted on 11/24/2002 8:53:56 PM PST by par4
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To: par4
McGreevey and Sharpe James are not exactly best buddies. They keep knocking heads trying to feed on the same corrupt carcasses. Plus, James has nothing to offer McGreevey in return for such a wonderous gift.

The Free Ticket to the Senate is going to generate more enthusiasm the Golden Ticket to the Wonka Factory. McGreevey is going to profit handsomely from Lautencelli's retirement, no matter who he appoints.

11 posted on 11/25/2002 8:17:51 AM PST by dead
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To: dead
He's been busy, we surprised him here in NYC. A lobbying group sponsored this event. The man who was in charge of organizing this was the former chief of staff for a Repbulican Assemblyman.

Monday, November 25

5:30-7:30 PM
At the home of

Mr & Mrs Howard J Rubenstein
993 Fifth Avenue
9th Floor
New York City

Between 80th and 81st Streets

$1,000.00 per person
12 posted on 11/28/2002 6:09:09 PM PST by Coleus
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To: Liz
If i42 could do it...
13 posted on 05/29/2003 9:11:11 PM PDT by Ed_in_NJ
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