23 July 2015

So Not a Surprise

The Pension Trustees of New Jersey decided that the huge private equity fees being paid to Christie supporters needed to be investigated.

Now we discover that the Christie administration is slow walking the investigation:
When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was preparing to launch his presidential campaign this spring, he faced a big potential headache: New Jersey pension officials had voted to investigate secret taxpayer fees that the Republican governor’s administration paid to Wall Street firms. But Christie’s administration may have found a stopgap solution: stall.

Four months after state pension trustees’ vote, the retirement system’s chairman told International Business Times that Christie’s aides have so far prevented the probe from getting off the ground.

“They are throwing up obstacles, as many as they can find,” said Tom Bruno, who leads the N.J. Public Employees' Retirement System's board of trustees. Bruno says Christie’s Treasury Department has prevented the probe from going forward until Christie’s appointees on the State Investment Council give their blessing.

The investigation was supposed to evaluate the higher fees that have accompanied the administration’s shift of billions of dollars of pension money into hedge funds, private equity and other so-called “alternative” investments. Despite federal and New Jersey “pay to play” rules, some of those fees have been paid to firms whose executives donated to GOP groups affiliated with Christie. But with New Jersey having no independently elected auditor, treasurer or attorney general, pensioners must ultimately rely on the Christie administration to approve an investigation of its own decisions affecting thousands of retirees.


Pension trustees demanded the audit in April following a series of reports from International Business Times spotlighting a massive increase in pension fees paid to private financial firms -- some of whose executives have made campaign contributions to Republican groups affiliated with Christie. In March, IBTimes reported that the Christie administration had failed to disclose potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in fees the state had been paying since Christie took office in January 2010.


Last year, after the initial disclosures, Christie’s then-State Investment Council Chairman Robert Grady resigned amid questions about political favoritism in awarding pension contracts. This year, Christie’s state treasurer, Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, resigned in June, a month after a testy legislative hearing in which state lawmakers raised questions about the undisclosed fees paid by the pension system under Christie.

The pension trustees’ push for a full audit of the pension system follows moves by the Christie administration that appeared to obscure or conceal details of the system’s finances and oversight decisions.

After financial experts raised questions about the accuracy of the pension performance data in 2014, Christie’s administration rejected repeated open records requests for documents that would show how it calculated the figures. When in the same year it was revealed that Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker donated $10,000 to the New Jersey Republican Party months before his financial firm received a New Jersey pension deal, Christie’s aides blocked the release of the findings of the government’s pay-to-play investigation until after Baker’s closely fought election.

Meanwhile, in the pension system’s most recent annual report, Christie’s aides changed the way they tabulated pension management fees to make it seem as if the fees had decreased -- when, in fact, they had jumped to $600 million.


The state’s investment strategy has not, however, generated higher returns for taxpayers and retirees. Last year, a study by Wilshire Associates found that the New Jersey pension fund’s investment return has trailed the median for pension funds throughout the country.


On Wednesday, however, the State Investment Council said the pension’s returns have been lower than expected so far this year.  
I so hope that he ends up in jail, but given his background as a former US Attorney, I fear that he has surrounded himself with plausible deniability.


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