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Gov. Chris Christie identified three ingredients for brewing corruption in state government: districts drawn to favor incumbents, no term limits and entitlement that grows with time.
Those are some of the reasons why the Republican governor favors capping the time members of the New Jersey Assembly and Senate can serve, he said Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Piscataway.
Without such restraints, corruption may run as rampant in Trenton as Christie claims it was while he was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
"I think that we should do it for a few reasons, corruption is certainly one of them. As you know when I was U.S. Attorney we wound up putting 10 percent of the state Legislature in jail during my seven years," Christie said, eliciting a round of applause from the audience.
Later, he said, "I think the longer people are there the more entitled they become. The more entitled they feel."
New Jersey can’t shake its connection with corrupt officials, a link that has been well established over time. But did Christie really put away 10 percent of the state Legislature?
By Christie’s count, his office won more than 130 convictions or guilty pleas from both Republicans and Democrats. Many of those came from local officials.
Christie nabbed a handful of state senators and assemblymen while he was U.S. Attorney, from 2002 to the end of 2008. But 10 percent of the state Legislature is an overreach.
In total, 120 legislators comprise the state Legislature, with 40 in the Senate and 80 in the Assembly. During Christie’s nearly seven years as U.S. Attorney, PolitiFact New Jersey found more than 185 people who served in either chamber.
Christie’s office charged five legislators -- all Democrats -- while they were in office: state Sens. Wayne Bryant, Joseph Coniglio and Sharpe James and Assemblymen Mims Hackett and Alfred Steele. All five served jail time.
That’s less than 3 percent of all the people who served.
The federal investigation of two other state legislators who were jailed, Republican Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt and Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Vas, began while Christie was U.S. Attorney. However, they were not charged until after Christie left the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Democrat John Lynch, a former state Senate president, was charged and jailed while Christie was U.S. Attorney. But Lynch was no longer in office when he was charged.
Even if those individuals are included, the fact remains that Christie didn’t jail 10 percent of the state Legislature during his time as U.S. Attorney.
"Really?" Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail. "Every other person in the audience understood the Governor was making a rhetorical point about his extensive record in combating political corruption as U.S. Attorney and not, as you seem to be suggesting, citing, with great exactitude, some baseball statistic."
"The Governor was emphasizing, conversationally, the gravity of the corruption which in those years reached into the highest levels of the legislature as well as high-ranking party bosses and operatives, and former legislators across this state – an extensive and politically powerful rogues gallery. Honestly, if you were actually in attendance at the town hall, heard his tone and inflection when he made this remark -- and were around in those years in New Jersey -- you would know that," Drewniak said.
Still, the governor can make a point about his record on corruption without saying he put 10 percent of the state Legislature in jail. That’s just not true.
Christie said when he was U.S. Attorney "we wound up putting 10 percent of the state Legislature in jail during my seven years."
As the state’s chief federal law enforcement officer, the governor charged scores of public officials with corruption.
Five of those officials were sitting state legislators at the time they were charged. All five were later jailed. That’s not a trivial figure, but it’s not 10 percent of the state Legislature.
We rate this claim False.
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Audio recording of Gov. Chris Christie town hall meeting, June 6, 2012
E-mail interview with Michael Drewniak, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, June 7, 2012
Gov. Chris Christie, Biography, accessed June 6, 2012
Record, CHRISTIE'S ALL-OUT WAR; Corruption is on the run in New Jersey, Sept. 23, 2007, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The Associated Press via NJ.com, Former state Sen. Joseph Coniglio is freed from prison, March 25, 2011
The Star-Ledger, As Chris Christie considers presidential run, past contests provide clues into governor's thinking, Oct. 3, 2011
Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual: State of New Jersey, 2008, pgs. 200-204
Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual: State of New Jersey, 2006, pgs. 200-204
Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual: State of New Jersey, 2004, pgs. 193-197
Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual: State of New Jersey, 2002, pgs. 191-195
The Star-Ledger, Braun: Former N.J. Assembly Speaker Joseph Doria survives the 'slings and arrows', Oct. 19, 2011
The Star-Ledger, Christie proved himself a man of convictions: In fighting corruption, he defied his critics' expectations, Nov. 23, 2008, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, Bryant latest N.J. politician headed to courtroom, Sept. 7, 2008, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The New York Times, Assemblyman Pleads Guilty To Misusing Campaign Money, Nov. 20, 2004
The Star-Ledger, Orange's Hackett heeds Democrats' call to resign after bribery arrest, Sept. 8, 2007, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, James pleads not guilty to graft charges, July 24, 2007, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Why Jersey Keeps Churning Out Corrupt Politicians, Nov. 1, 2009, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, Van Pelt convicted of bribery, extortion: Ex-Ocean official faces 30 years, May 20, 2010, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The U.S. Attorney’s Office: New Jersey, Former assemblyman and perth amboy, new jersey mayor joseph vas and aide melvin ramos sentenced to prison for mail and federal election fraud, April 12, 2011
The U.S. Attorney’s Office: New Jersey, Assemblyman and Former Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas Indicted for His Participation in Corrupt Schemes, May 20, 2009
The Star-Ledger, Authorities probe legacy of ex-mayor: City employees interviewed as Vas defends actions of his administration, Oct. 24, 2008, accessed via Nexis on June 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, Ex-senator and Democratic Party kingpin admits taking kickbacks, Sept. 16, 2006
The Associated Press via NJ.com, Ex-N.J. Assemblyman Van Pelt begins 41-month prison sentence for $10K bribe conviction, Jan. 6, 2011
The Star-Ledger, Former Assemblyman Joseph Vas is sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison, April 12, 2011
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