The New Jersey Ethics Commission, led by a former aide to Gov. Chris Christie, has rejected a complaint targeting the Christie administration’s former top pension official. Citing jurisdictional constraints, the commission issued a one-paragraph ruling dismissing allegations of impropriety directed by the state’s largest union at Bob Grady, a private equity executive who headed the state council that oversees public employees’ retirement money.
The ruling is the latest move by Christie officials to exonerate their own administration. In January, Christie’s Treasury Department exonerated pension officials from charges they violated their own pay-to-play rules when they committed $25 million to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s firm, months after Baker made a $10,000 donation to the New Jersey Republican State Committee. Before that, lawyers hired by the Christie administration found he had no prior knowledge of a plan by top staffers to block an access lane to the George Washington Bridge and snarl traffic for a week in September 2013.
The AFL-CIO originally filed its complaint against Grady with the ethics commission in September, after International Business Times reported that Grady had participated in conference calls with the governor’s campaign and fundraising staff while the State Investment Council was approving pension deals with firms whose executives made political contributions to groups backing Christie’s election.
The ethics commission dismissed the complaint without comment or explanation for the ruling. It did not look at whether the campaign donations violated state pay-to-play rules. It also did not rule on disclosures showing that Grady’s private firm invested in the same fund Grady pushed to move state pension money into. Those disclosures came after the original ethics complaint was filed, and Grady resigned his state post weeks later.
“The commission does not have jurisdiction to interpret or enforce campaign finance laws or the Treasury’s Division of Investment statutes, rules or regulations,” a representative for the ethics commission told IBTimes.
The AFL-CIO did not respond to a request for comment about the commission's decision.
“From the beginning, the complaint was entirely bogus, frivolous and partisan,” Grady told Chief Investment Officer magazine on Monday. “This is everything that is wrong with American politics.”
Grady did not challenge the central facts about campaign contributions, pension deals and conference calls in the ethics complaint.
The Ethics Commission comprises three Christie appointees and four public members. In January, Christie appointed Susana Espasa Guerrero to serve as its executive director. Before that, Guerrero worked as a counsel in the governor’s office, and she briefly worked with Christie at a law firm run by one of his top allies and fundraisers, Bill Palatucci.
Last month, state lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that would extend the SIC’s contribution ban and bar executives at firms receiving pension money from giving to federal political committees operating in New Jersey. Christie has not said whether he will sign the legislation, though Grady’s successor, Tom Byrne, said last week he has been personally lobbying Democratic lawmakers against overriding a veto if Christie opposes it.
Grady has said he would help Christie’s presidential campaign if the governor decides to run.