Commentary: Can Charlie Baker Dodge Pay-To-Play Bullet On N.J. Connection?

State government in New Jersey is forbidden from hiring investment firms whose managers have made political contributions in the previous two years. The outlawed practice is called "pay-to-play." Charlie Baker's alleged pay-to-play role was first uncovered in May.

Here are 10 facts about pay-to-play and the Republican Baker:

  1. In April of 2011, he became partner and XIR — “executive-in residence” — for General Catalyst, a Cambridge company that competes to manage state pension funds.
  2. Baker was listed on the company website as an “XIR/partner,” a person who has connections or knowledge to spot investments for the firm; he had an office there and shared an executive assistant, but didn't get a paycheck.
  3. He said he and the firm set up a company called CBDI, which pays Baker a consulting fee. He wouldn't tell The Boston Globe how much he has made.
  4. In May of 2011, he made a personal contribution of $10,000 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee. The technology news website Pando Daily broke the story.
  5. Baker said he made the huge contribution because he was grateful to Gov. Chris Christie for coming twice to Massachusetts to help him in his failed 2010 campaign for governor.
  6. In December 2011, six months later, Christie’s administration awarded a contract to General Catalyst (GC) to manage a $15 million state pension fund, even though the rule forbids contributions during the previous two years. Baker’s campaign admitted that GC steered some of that money to a health insurance company where Baker is also an “executive-in-residence.”
  7. Baker says the pay-to play restriction doesn't apply to him because he was not an employee of GC. He hired a group of lawyers who, to no one’s surprise, concluded that he had done nothing wrong.
  8. He listed GC as his employer on government documents, and the Globe found that tax records show most of his income in recent years came from GC.
  9. According to Pando Daily, experts including former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Sloan said the contribution likely violated the pay-to-play rule.
  10. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie has helped Baker with millions of dollars in TV attack ads. One of the spots attacked Democrat Martha Coakley, blaming her for the troubled state agency charged with protecting children in distress.

Christie’s payback, a new cover-up. Christie officials are now blocking the release of the findings of New Jersey's pay-to-play investigation into Baker. When the investigation was launched in May into Baker's $10,000 gift, Christie officials said the review would take “several weeks.”

A last-minute reprieve from Christie? The International Business Times reported:

Five months later, with Baker now neck-and-neck in the polls with Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and backed by more than $5 million from the Christie-led RGA, Christie officials have denied an open records request for the findings of the investigation.

We know from Christie’s traffic jam scandal that nothing in New Jersey escapes the governor’s attention.

Two days too late. IBT filed a separate request for documents that it said “would show whether General Catalyst specifically promoted Baker's involvement in the firm when pitching its investment to New Jersey. Christie officials are pushing back the due date to release those documents to Nov. 6” — two days after Massachusetts picks its next governor.

An odorous play. Baker’s campaign rests on the claim that he has been a skillful businessman. This New Jersey case, as former Gov. Bill Weld might say, “Doesn't pass the smell test.”  Why would Baker make such an odorous play? Probably because he wasn't planning to run for governor one year after he lost to Deval Patrick.

This episode is a peek into how business is done when no one’s looking. Voters who look into the final debates over the next week might find Baker’s explanation awfully lame.

Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.

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Dan Payne Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.



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