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As flags across New Jersey fly at half-staff in remembrance of beloved teevee man James Gandolfini, dozens of Garden State politicians are scrambling to explain their connections to an illegal pay-t0-play scheme that wouldn't have felt out of place in one of the more boring episodes of The Sopranos. Here's how it worked: the bankrupt and recently-sold Birdsall Services Group would ask employees to write checks of $300 or less to politicians in positions to steer government construction contracts to Birdsall, then Birdsall would reimburse the employees out of company coffers. Sound familiar?

Birdsall got in some legal trouble over this, which is how the Star-Ledger got their hands on Birdsall's SECRET FILE of who got their SECRET MONEY. Chris Christie's on there, with a little "S" next to his name, for "secret" (really). Cory Booker's on there. Jon Corzine's on there (of course, what a scumbag). Humorously, other groups receiving secret, illegal contributions were "Citizens For Good Government," a Democratic group, and "Citizens for Responsible Government," a Republican group. Top THAT, George Orwell!

The amount of $300 was key because, per New Jersey's thicket of intersecting state and local anti-corruption laws, any donation over $300 needs to be disclosed in some instances, or is flatly illegal for a corporation to give in others. Maybe the law needs another look, because the authorities only found out about Birdsall after their "former marketing director, Philip Angarone Jr., was secretly recorded by his estranged wife explaining how he had received illegal reimbursements from the firm for campaign contributions." Women, amirite?

Now, if any politician who received "secret" contributions knew Birdsall was reimbursing employees for the gifts, that politician broke the law by accepting the donation. Likewise, if any recipient politician decided to award a contract to Birdsall because of contributions, that's not cool either. Of course, everyone will deny they've ever heard of Birdsall, they have no idea what a government contract even is, they run their campaigns strictly on audacity, truth-telling, and ground-up pixies, and if Birdsall gave them any money it was probably nice and legal, and if not legal, at least it was nice.

Of course, nobody really believes that Birdsall had their employees write a bunch of $300 checks under their own names without making sure the politicians receiving them knew who it was really from, and what it was for. In other words:

Pay-to-play only works with two willing dance partners, said [Craig] Holman, one of the original architects of New Jersey’s law, and Birdsall would not have invested so much money in politicians unless those politicians knew why it was being given. "If it’s anonymous or they don’t know about it, it’s kind of hard to expect a return favor," Holman said.

But Both Sides Do It, which all but guarantees that New Jersey's next governor and senator will (allegedly) have taken (allegedly) illegal Birdsall money. It's not too late to nominate Rush Holt for Senate, New Jersishes! But no, it will be Cory Booker, who is basically already running for president. Just what we need in Washington!

[Star-Ledger, nj.com]

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