Entries in George Norcross (3)

Wednesday
Oct102018

Why is the Grease machine picking who’s who in the media?

There’s an old saying among machine politicians in Philadelphia.  It goes like this, “If you say you’re the boss, and nobody says you aint the boss, then you’re the boss.”

John F.X. Graham probably heard it back in the day, when he was prowling around amongst the ward healers in that sainted city of brotherly love.  Back when “ethnic” meant second or third generation Irish or Polish or Italian and individual neighborhoods developed their own dialects (yes, people really did talk like Rocky back then).

John F. X. moved to New Jersey where he followed the yellow brick road of selling insurance to government entities.  Unlike South Jersey’s George Norcross, John F. X. wasn’t really interested in building a political machine.  He was content with a money machine – the old-fashioned kind, the grease machine that uses campaign contributions to lube the representatives of the taxpayers, so that their money pumps out in a nice, steady stream.

Last December, the Observer wrote about John F.X. and his operation – the Fairview Insurance Agency – in a “special report” about “How Insurance Brokers Reap Public Funds Without Disclosure.”  It makes for interesting reading:

Insurance brokerages that make political donations are declining to disclose large amounts of money received indirectly from public entities.

One of the biggest goldmines for contractors in New Jersey is selling insurance plans to public entities, which employ hundreds of thousands of workers across the state.

But an Observer review of dozens of public documents shows that in some cases, it’s difficult or impossible to get a complete accounting of the money going back and forth between insurance brokerages — some of which are deep-pocketed campaign donors — and the public entities that award lucrative insurance contracts. 

For instance, Fairview Insurance Agency Associates is one of the largest political donors in New Jersey, giving more than $120,000 to various candidates and committees in 2016, the ninth-highest among businesses in the state, according to the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency.

The Verona-based brokerage is also a big contractor, raking in at least $1.1 million through public contracts or agreements across New Jersey in 2016.

Under state law, the firm is required to report annually all of its political donations and public contracts to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, provided it gets at least $50,000 in public contracts and makes at least one political donation of any amount. Curiously, however, some of the money Fairview gets indirectly from public entities is then reported to ELEC as $0.

The effect is that, to the average observer reading ELEC reports, Fairview would appear to have made much less from public entities and institutions than it actually got — directly and indirectly — in a given year.

Observer reviewed ELEC disclosures for five companies, only three of which were required to itemize their contracts and donations.

A review of six ELEC disclosure forms, 29 invoices, four contracts and eight resolutions by school boards and local councils revealed a loophole in state law that allows brokerages such as Fairview to not report to ELEC tens of thousands of dollars, or more, that they receive as a result of working for governments or public entities. 

In 93 cases, three brokerages reported receiving $0 from public agreements in 2016 on their disclosure forms filed with ELEC...  In one case, Observer found that Fairview was paid $54,000 indirectly from Jersey City’s school board but later disclosed $0 to ELEC.

It works like this. Brokerages — which sell insurance plans to local governments — are often paid commissions or fees by third-party companies. In this scenario, the actual contract does not go to the brokerage, but to the third-party company, while the brokerage still gets a cut of the business. 

In some cases, the dollar amount of these fees or commissions can be traced back by filing public records requests with local governments. Some public entities that answered such requests from Observer provided copies of the original public contracts, which in turn detailed the actual fees or commissions paid to insurance brokerages that were reported to ELEC as $0.

In other cases, there is no mechanism to piece together what a third-party company paid to a brokerage in commissions. Some public entities did not disclose or could not say how much their brokers were paid indirectly by their contractors.

In March 2015, the Jersey City Board of Education passed a resolution to award Fairview a $54,000 contract to be the school district’s prescription insurance broker for fiscal year 2016.

Fairview did not end up receiving an actual contract. The school board struck a deal two months later with Express Scripts to manage its prescription benefits plan, and in that contract, it directed Express Scripts to pay Fairview $4,500 per month on its behalf, according to a copy of the contract provided by the Jersey City school board. The school district essentially paid someone else to pay Fairview.

In the end, Fairview reported that it received $0 in 2015 and 2016 from its work for the Jersey City Board of Education, according to its annual reports filed with ELEC. The firm noted that the amounts it disclosed “do not include commissions received from the insurance carriers.” (Observer, December 6, 2017) 

Campaign contributions flowing one-way, huge contracts flowing the other… minimal to no transparency. That’s New Jersey.

The problem is… the Fairview Insurance Agency owns the news agency (InsiderNJ) that just handed out the designations as to who is who in New Jersey media. 

Yep, there’s John F. X. Graham who owns both the Fairview Insurance Agency and InsiderNJ (he holds titles of founder and publisher, respectively).  Michael J. Graham is Chief Operating Officer of both the Fairview Insurance Agency and InsiderNJ.  Ryan Graham is the Director of Business Development for the Fairview Insurance Agency and the Associate Publisher of InsiderNJ. 

That’s it folks… John F.X.’s grease machine has its own media mouthpiece with which to skew perceptions.  And that’s a handy thing to have in an age of hollowed out local coverage and a dearth of what was once called “investigative journalism.”  The press is now routinely used to punish the whistleblower, the taxpayer advocate, citizen activist, the underdog.  It’s easy to see why.

Now don’t get us wrong, just because John F.X. is all about the money… and the money… and the money… and the money… That doesn’t mean he’s not above playing the part of the noble, the enlightened, crony capitalist.  Hey, didn’t some notorious mob boss put a roof on a church?  Doesn’t Johnson & Johnson make up for failing to warn women that their product could cause uterine cancer by being oh so woke on LGBTQ?  It pays to have fashionable connections and to assist those connections in the higher causes of fashion.

John F.X. is a friend of Hillary.  Yes, that old wind bag.  You could forgive him being a friend of Bill because, heck, who wouldn’t want a night out on the town with Bill Clinton?  He’d make a Saturday night seem like a month of weekends.  But Hillary?  You know that’s just fashion. 

Nevertheless, John F.X. has been called “a top Democrat fundraiser” by newspapers like the Bergen Record and the Newark Star-Ledger.  In addition to Hillary Clinton, John F.X. raised money for John Kerry in his 2004 presidential race, and he’s been a big giver to United States Senator Bob Menendez.  In fact, it was John F.X. who pushed the idea of Menendez on a national ticket as vice president:

In January 2008, the Jersey Journal along with other media outlets reported that “John F.X. Graham, one of Hillary Clinton’s National Finance Co-Chairs, thinks that New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez would make a great choice if Clinton wins the Democratic Primary… Graham fired off an email this morning to Clinton Campaign Manager Terry McAuliffe listing politicians who would make good vice presidential material, including the choices most often brought up:  Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Joe Biden.  But Menendez, a Clinton campaign national co-chair, would be the “most intriguing” choice, Graham wrote.”

“The name Richardson does not sound exactly Latino,” wrote Graham.  “The Latino voting block is becoming the most influential in this election, especially with the immigration and other economic issues confronting our prosperity.  For lack of a better term, he is the Latino Barack Obama with the experience.” 

Why would John F.X. think that encouraging people to vote along racial or ethnic lines is good public policy?  Has he not heard of the former Yugoslavia? 

Finally, John F.X. made his pronouncements while Senator Menendez was the subject of an FBI investigation.  Not that something like that matters when you are making a fashion statement.

Yes, so it seems that InsiderNJ can also be considered an outpost of the far-flung Clinton Empire.  Ahhhh, corruption at its most tasty. 

And it looks as though John F.X. is quite a big deal.  Even Wikileaks picked up loads of correspondence between John F.X. and his fellow Clintonistas.  Here is an example:

As far as the money goes, national contacts and a national reach does have its advantages.  We found dozens of John F.X.’s insurance agency’s outposts around the country.  All making him money – but northern New Jersey and Essex County in particular is his base.  It was reported in Politico (November 24, 2014) that Essex County Democrat Party boss Joe DiVincenzo’s son worked for John F.X.’s insurance agency.  He also held a full-time public job as well. 

So it was no surprise that the most corrupt political machine in the state – the Essex County Democrats – inducted John F.X. into their “Hall of Fame” in March of 2015.  InsiderNJ editor, Max Pizarro wrote the panegyric, which we suppose was less messy than the alternative. 

Now can we ask this again?  What are these people doing handing out the rankings on New Jersey journalists?  Shouldn’t some organization, like the Society of Professional Journalists, be doing it?  Or the Columbia School of Journalism?  Or anything but the god-damned grease machine itself!

Ten years ago, the authors of The Soprano State – two old-school investigative journalists – joined with journalists like Josh Margolin to decry the corruption tax that added to the cost paid by New Jersey taxpayers on everything to do with government.  Could they have guessed that, ten years later, not only would the tax be more imbedded and less transparent, but that the very news agencies responsible for exposing and reporting on it would now be wholly-owned subsidiaries of the same grease machine responsible for the corruption?

New Jersey… you can’t make this stuff up.

Tuesday
Mar132018

Selling out: Media's decline from Al Doblin to Jonathan Salant

New Jersey's establishment media -- its editors and reporters -- are in a freefall and have lost their sense of decency.  Job security is such that they have all become free agents, writing articles to please prospective employers. 

So we have Star-Ledger Editor Tom Moran performing a masochistic panegyric to please Democrat machine boss George Norcross.  Over at the Bergen Record, that newspaper's editor was turning out pro-Democrat columns non-stop while engaging in backdoor negotiations with Senate President Steve Sweeney's office.  A few years ago, boss Norcross tried to buy the Philadelphia Inquirer, now his machine is getting all the talent on the cheap.

The NJGOP's answer to this was predictably self-defeating.  It's idea of a GOP counterbalance to the growing Democrat hegemony over media was to bring back Bridgegate mastermind David "Wally Edge" Wildstein, possibly the only person more hated in New Jersey than his old boss, Chris Christie.  To fund Wildstein's operation they found former Jamestown alumnus Ken Kurson.  It was Kurson who ran such memorable efforts as incumbent Marcia Karrow's loss to Mike Doherty in 2009 and incumbent Jeff Parrott's loss to Parker Space in 2010.  But losing has never been a bar to advancement in the NJGOP.  In fact, it generally is an asset.

Yep, Kurson has been accused of sexual harassment by writer and cancer-survivor Deborah Copaken.  This comes at a time when Kurson's old firm is trying to convince the women of New Jersey that the NJGOP's choice for U.S. Senate -- Bob Hugin -- is a new kind of man, when it comes to women (whatever that is supposed to mean).  You can read about what Kurson gets up to here:  

https://www.mediaite.com/online/author-deborah-copaken-accuses-ex-observer-editor-ken-kurson-of-sexual-harassment-in-powerful-op-ed/ 

It was Wildstein who outted Al Doblin as the ethical-free-zone he is.  Doblin plainly hated the kind of attention he's bestowed on others his entire working life.  In a series of whines, he complained to Wildstein: 

“I am the editorial page editor.  If someone makes me an offer, I have the right to consider it,” Doblin explained.

Doblin called a request for information regarding his employment search “truly horrific.”

“This is unfair.  Truly unfair,” he said. 

But Doblin is not the worst of the bunch.  That "honor" must surely go to Jonathan "short-ass" Salant, a reporter worthy of his own Duranty Prize for consistent blindness to all but the party-line.  In case you've forgotten Walter "the hand" Duranty.  He's the assbandit who denied that Stalin was starving to death millions of human beings in the Ukraine and elsewhere in what was once called the "Soviet Union".  He even won a Pulitzer Prize for it. 

Duranty wrote for the New York Times, which later was forced to admit that his articles denying the famine constituted "some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper."  There have been calls to revoke his Pulitzer, but you know how tough it is to get elitist filth to admit they made a mistake.  So Duranty's award -- for 1930's era Fake News -- still stands.  And so much for journalism.

Salant's latest dry-humping of the news came a few weeks back, when he attempted to write an update of the various congressional races in New Jersey.  

He started off by being childishly giddy about Republican Leonard Lance's district having gone for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while failing to mention that Democrat Josh Gottheimer's had done the same for Trump that year. 

Salant never fails to describe a Republican donor negatively, offering bits of color, always dark.  On the other hand, old short-ass describes such creatures as George Soros in this light:  "Malinowski (received a donation of) $5,400 from investor George Soros, a major Democratic donor."

Investor?  A major Democratic donor??  How about convicted financial scammer who liberal economists have criticized for his callous manipulations of currency?  

Perhaps Salant is displaying his talents for the consideration of one of the many Soros media organs?  That seems to be the way these days. 

In writing about the fifth district, Jonathan Salant somehow missed the fact that a third Republican, Jason Sarnosky, had dropped out of the race weeks before.  He wrote about him as if he were still campaigning.  

He went on to cover the race in southern New Jersey's first district.  And once again, Salant behaved like he was on a job interview.  He never once mentioned the machine that bears the Congressman's name and wrote as if it didn't exist. 

Not to place Donald Norcross in the context of the machine of which he is a part is misleading and unethical.  It promotes bad government by purposefully covering up the truth and it gives aid and comfort to one of the most authoritarian political machines in America.  Don't want to see it, Jonathan?  Well just try being an ordinary citizen when the machine decides it wants to use eminent domain to take your property in order to give it to one of their corporate friends.  That's what you are shilling for. 

The southern region of New Jersey is an example of a dominant-party system or one-party dominant system of government.  According to South African political scientist Raymond Suttner, such a system occurs when there is "a category of parties/political organizations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future".  It is a de facto one-party system, often devolving into a de jure one-party system, a semi-democracy. Usually, the dominant party has a tendency towards "suppressing freedom of expression and manipulating the press in favor of the ruling party." 

Well, short-ass, that is who you are shilling for.  That is who you are now.  All those romantic post-Watergate notions about doing right... well you're over that, right?  Expensive restaurants and sexy vacations got the better of you, didn't they?

Sell-out.


Tuesday
Mar132018

Phil Garber and the NJ Democrats' Fake News machine

Phil Garber is a small-time editor of a weekly newspaper operating out of Mount Olive, in Morris County.  Garber has never heard of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the oldest association of writers and editors in the United States, and if he had heard of them, his actions over the years confirm that he's never read the Code of Ethics of the SPJ. 

In a recent headline, Garber reported that Mount Olive is getting $292,500 from the state for a repaving project.  Garber noted that the funds were possible because of the recent gas tax increase that has more than doubled the amount of funds for local road and bridge safety improvement projects.

Of course, Garber had pissed all over the Republican who led the fight to prevent the bankruptcy of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), from which those funds were drawn.  That was in 2016.  The Tax Restructuring Package that cut five taxes and re-funded the TTF through a 23-cents a gallon increase on gasoline was passed in 2016 and signed into law by Republican Governor Chris Christie on October 14, 2016.

But that did not stop Editor Garber from making this the first sentence of his story:  "The first fruits of the new administration of Gov. Phil Murphy have been harvested in terms of a grant of $292,500 for the first phase of repaving International Drive North."

No shit.  Phil "the swallower" Garber wants us to swallow this.  The "first fruits" of an administration that didn't take office until January 16, 2018.  How did that work?

Garber works for a newspaper that is owned by the wife of Mark Magyar, one of Senate President Steve Sweeney's top aides.  In December of 2014, Magyar was hired as the Democrat's new Director of Policy and Communications.  Magyar had been a statehouse reporter for the Asbury Park Press and the Bergen Record, as well as the editor of the New Jersey Spotlight.

The corporate and political empire of Democrat Party boss George Norcross -- the political machine of which the Senate President is a part -- has a history of co-opting or attempting to co-opt local and regional newspapers in that part of New Jersey where his authoritarian rule is almost uncontested.  The machine is in the process of solidifying its rule in its southern New Jersey base, while expanding its power across the state -- and beyond.  The machine is allied with powerful lawyer-lobbyists like former Governor Jim Florio and Camden County Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli, who are expanding into neighboring states.  And while the machine's first such foray ended in prosecution and tumult, it might well be successful, and could usher in a period of sustained, anti-democratic ruthlessness, unique in the experience of post-Prohibition America.

Mark Magyar is the spouse of Elizabeth K. Parker, Co-publisher and Executive Editor the New Jersey Hills Media Group.  The group is controlled by the Recorder Publishing Company, a privately held entity in Bernardsville, that owns and publishes 17 local newspapers in Republican Morris County, Somerset County, and Hunterdon County -- and in Republican towns in Essex County.  Their readership comes from towns that usually get the short end of the sick from the Democrats in Trenton.

Elizabeth Parker owns Recorder Publishing with her brother, Co-publisher and Business Manager Stephen W. Parker.  He oversees the print and on-line advertising operations.  The company also sells other services, including website development, search engine optimization, "Reputation Management", and "Social Media Management".

Some of the newspapers they control have been around for more than a century -- like the Hunterdon Review, established in 1868; the Bernardsville News, 1897; Madison Eagle, 1880; and The Progress, 1911.  Recorder Publishing was started by the late Cortlandt Parker, who founded the Morris Observer in 1955.  His company expanded to its current size with the acquisition of the Eagle-Courier Group in 1991. 

Cortlandt Parker, who died in 2002, had residences in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts.  His New York Times obituary describes him as having progressive positions on "social issues" and cites as an example his refusal to accept cigarette advertising in his newspapers "before it was common to do so."

While taking a position against the generally working class pleasure of tobacco, Mr. Parker was an advocate of that upper class pleasure -- wine.  He founded the Greenvale Vineyards in Rhode Island and published several magazines about the wine industry in the Finger Lakes region of New York, New England, Long Island, and Virginia.  The New England Wine Gazette is published by Recorder Publishing, at its Bernardsville operation.

Newspapers were never as pure or disinterested as their cheerleaders would have us believe, but at least -- once upon a time/ just yesterday -- they did constitute a locus of power independent of political machines.  Not necessarily of their corporate advertisers (per Herman and Chomsky), but certainly of base political machines.  Those days are drawing to a close. 

New Jersey is unique in its forms and ways of political corruption -- especially of systemic corruption -- in that it rides the wave just ahead of the rest of America.  Sadly, it appears that what we once called journalism is on a rapid descent into the realms of propaganda and in future will be little more than coarse party broadsheets -- advertisements using histrionics worthy of Pravda or the Völkischer Beobachter.