Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Governor For Now

It was 35 days to Election Day, and Chris Christie was asked the question(s) the media has been afraid to ask.  It took a televised debate, but finally he was queried about whether he intends to serve out the second term as governor he will be awarded on November 5.

According to ABC News, at the New Jersey gubernatorial debate on Tuesday

When the Republican governor was asked directly whether he was going to run for president, Christie did not rule it out, at first joking that he “didn’t anticipate” the question at all.

“Listen my mother told me a long time ago … do the job you have at the moment the best you possibly can and the future will take care of itself,” Christie said at the debate this evening at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. “The fact is there have been people talking about me running for president since 2010 and they all said I would do it in 2012 and I said I wouldn’t and I didn’t. And the fact is after 2017 I’m going to be looking for another job anyway.

“I’m going to continue to do my job the best way I possibly can and I am not going to declare tonight … that I am or I am not running for president and you know what? People don’t expect me to, they expect me to do my job,” he said.

Christie was then pressed by the moderator for WCBS-TV in New York City as to why people should vote for him if he can’t make a commitment for four years. Christie responded that he will continue to “work as hard” for New Jersey residents.

“I don’t think anybody in America or in the state of New Jersey expects anybody three years away to tell them what they are going to do. Life’s too long,” Christie said. “I won’t make those decisions until I have to.”

Governor Christie cannot make a commitment for four years not because he will gain the Repub 2016 presidential nomination, but because his financial donors may make it nearly impossible for him to remain governor of the Garden State.   Steve Kornacki of Salon and MSNBC wrote in July

What’s not getting much attention is the flip side: the severe consequences that winning a second term as governor could have for Christie’s ability to raise money for a national campaign – and the possibility that he might be compelled to resign his office during his second term if he’s going to seek the White House.

This is the result of two federal rules, one from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board dating back nearly two decades and the other from the SEC in 2011, that drastically curb the ability of employees of Wall Street firms to donate to governors seeking federal office and of the uniquely broad appointment powers that come with the New Jersey governorship. Put together, they have the potential to prevent Christie from raising millions of dollars from a cash-rich sector – the financial services industry – that has been particularly enthusiastic about him.

“It affects a huge swath of potential donations,” Ken Gross, a former lawyer for the Federal Election Commission who now runs the political law practice at the firm Skadden, Arps, said on Sunday. “Because it not only affects corporate donations where permissible at the state level to a governor or somebody, but also affects [corporations'] PACs and individual executives’ personal giving down to very, very low limits – $250 or $350, depending on what you’re talking about. So a tremendous impact.”

Enacted in 1994, the first of the MSRB rules bars employees of firms that underwrite state and municipal bonds from donating to any official seeking federal office who has any role in giving business to bond firms. That prohibition was expanded just over two years ago to include employees of firms that advise state pension funds – effectively doubling, from $2.7 trillion to more than $5 trillion, the market covered.

Penalties for firms found to be in violation of the rule are steep. For example, when a Morgan Stanley executive donated $1,000 to then-Massachusetts Governor William Weld’s 1996 U.S. Senate campaign, the firm was banned from doing business with the state for two years. The rule was triggered because Weld had the power to issue state bonds, and it cost Morgan Stanley millions in business.

But when Mitt Romney considered Christie for the No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket last year, the rules were apparently on his mind. Last August, after Romney tapped Paul Ryan instead of Christie, the New York Post reported that the talks with Christie broke down over the SEC issue:

Christie’s aides tried to find a way around the rules — like passing off power over state bonds and pensions to another official.

But that didn’t satisfy Romney officials. They feared that if Christie ran for veep and didn’t resign, the Obama campaign could challenge any Wall Street donations.

The Washington Post's Dan Balz discovered that Mitt Romney- whose ethical standards exceed those of Christie*-  believed that Christie might  have to play by the rules were he selected as the vice-presidential nominee in 2012.  Apparently, that was difficult for the NJ governor to understand. Kornacki continued

In his new book, Balz provides additional background on the Romney-Christie talks, reporting that Romney raised the issue directly with Christie and asked him if he’d be willing to resign his office in order to join the GOP ticket. Christie, according to Balz, laughed at the question, apparently not realizing at first that Romney was serious. As Balz tells it:

“A Romney adviser said the campaign never found an adequate solution to the pay-to-play rule as it might affect sitting governors running for president or vice president. They came away convinced that the rule will have a potentially significant effect on sitting governors who decide to seek the presidency in the future.

 Christie, of course, isn’t the only sitting governor in the 2016 mix. But for several reasons the bond and investment adviser rules affect him more than any other would-be candidate:

New Jersey’s governorship is the most powerful in the nation. Christie enjoys broad authority over appointments, which makes it easy to tie him to decisions involving bond underwriters and investment advisers. For instance, he appoints a majority of the members of the board that oversees bond deals. Other governors aren’t as exposed. As ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein reported last year, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination in ’16, comes from a “sole trustee” state where an elected comptroller has power over the state’s pension funds.

New Jersey also has the most strict pay-to-play laws in the country, with the state doubling the penalties prescribed by the SEC for any firms violating its prohibitions. There are additional penalties imposed at the municipal level.

Christie is particularly popular with exactly the type of donor most likely to be affected by the SEC rules: Wall Street executives.

It’s enough to raise the question of whether Christie, whose second term wouldn’t expire until January 2018, might decide that staying on as governor is more trouble than it’s worth if he opts to seek the presidency.

The governor's decision to resign from the governorship to pursue the presidency will be made easier by the assumption of the office by his running mate, the still-unknown Kim Guadagno.  Loyal to the rude and crude politician she serves, Guadagno likely will sacrifice her own credibility by avoiding leveling with the people of the state about the mess she will have inherited from a governor who has been a disaster for New Jersey.

*yes, really... and by a large margin

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