Residents should profit from exposing public fraud, Republican panel told

//September 18, 2009

Residents should profit from exposing public fraud, Republican panel told

//September 18, 2009

Hearing covers topics from elected auditor general to improved whistleblower protection.New Jersey should have a law allowing residents to recover damages from fraud that they uncover, a retired resident from the Basking Ridge section of Bernards told an Assembly Republican committee that on Wednesday held its second hearing on corruption.

The Republican Policy Committee also heard proposals from the mayor of Franklin Township, in Somerset County, and a former police officer who exposed corruption in West New York.

Douglas Wicks, of Basking Ridge, said he learned from working on fraud in school roofing with the State Commission of Investigation in the 1990s that New Jersey needs a version of the federal False Claims Act, in which those who identify fraud can financially benefit from it.

Wicks also said elected officials should only be able to receive campaign donations from people who are eligible to vote for them, which would bar corporations and unions from giving money.

Rich Rivera, a former West New York police officer, said he lost his job after he exposed corruption. He said state and local authorities fail to pursue corruption effectively, and added that a better system to protect whistleblowers should be put in place.

“I’ve been blacklisted from public employment, police work,” he said.

Gregg Edwards, president of the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey, said the state should have an elected comptroller, who would be elected in a different year than the governor.

His proposal differed from one discussed by the committee at its first meeting, when members proposed a nonpartisan auditor general. Edwards said the position shouldn’t be nonpartisan, because few people vote in the May nonpartisan local elections.

Edwards also said the Legislature should require all new programs to be measured for effectiveness, and to have an end date that would require them to be reviewed.

Rutgers Business School professor Wayne Eastman said corruption leads to inefficiency in government, while Franklin Mayor Brian D. Levine said municipalities are given too much room to pick redevelopment projects, so that an official’s “friend can get a nice plum project, complete with eminent domain.”

Levine also said state Council on Affordable Housing rules allow developers to force through projects that are not the best use of land, which he described as a form of “legal corruption.”

Assemblyman Jon M. Bramnick(R-Westfield), the committee chairman, agreed that legal corruption through the influence of money in politics occurs.

E-mail Andrew Kitchenman at [email protected]