Incredibly, New Jersey does not publish the multimillion-dollar fees it pays to the private investment contractors it hires to manage billions in state pension funds - unlike Pennsylvania and other states, which list those charges in annual reports and post the data online.
When I asked for the list of what New Jersey has paid each investment manager since it started hiring them a few years back, the state Treasury Department spokesman at first said it wasn't public information. Then he suggested I ask under the state Open and Public Records Act, which promises a reply in 10 days. Twenty-five days later - the state said it had to tell the fund managers, then give them time to comment - they e-mailed last year's fees, and have promised the rest, in batches.
David Sirota in the International Business Times caused a stir in Trenton last week when he reported that the state's underfunded pension system had hired half a dozen hedge funds in 2011 - soon after their officers gave money to the Republican Governors Association, which Gov. Christie now chairs. (Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts denounced Sirota as an "advocacy journalist." Sirota, a Montgomery County native, stands by his report.)
State records show New Jersey pension contractors also have given to national Democratic groups and candidates.
New Jersey's pension board, the State Investment Council, chaired by Christie adviser Robert Grady, leaves manager selection to its professionals, and "any insinuations that politics are in any way involved in investment decisions are completely baseless," Treasury spokesman Christopher Santarelli told me.
But it's widely recognized that there is a danger mixing political donations and public finance: Since 2010, federal law has banned money managers from collecting fees from states and cities where they have financed political candidates.
The Securities and Exchange Commission this year forced TL Ventures of Wayne, an underperforming venture fund whose chief, Robert Keith, had been a frequent political donor, to return $295,000 in fees from Pennsylvania and Philadelphia because Keith gave to Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter after the ban.
That ban hasn't been applied to gifts to national political organizations, like the governors' group, however.
Orin Kramer, the New York hedge-fund manager and Democratic fund-raiser who headed New Jersey's pension board before Grady, wrote what he calls "the toughest rules in the country" banning New Jersey pension contractors from funding New Jersey politicians.
But that rule doesn't seem to cover contributions to national political groups, either. A rule change submitted by the Christie administration in June 2013 and adopted in March specifies that the state ban does not apply to gifts to "a Federal or national campaign committee or a non-state political committee."
Kramer led the charge for private managers. Yet he also warned in a 2004 memo of the possibility that "over time, New Jersey will be incapable of hiring outside asset managers without the process being tainted by the influence of political contributions." He remembers critics told him, "If you don't have both transparency and controls on giving, even if one administration is clean, the next will be taking care of friends."
In New Jersey today, Kramer told me, "that criticism is legitimate."