Documents Shed New Light on Alleged Conflicts of Interest In New Jersey Pension System

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Gov. Chris Christie has shielded his state’s pension system in recent weeks from allegations of conflicts of interest by asserting one thing: the State Investment Board doesn’t have input in pension investment decisions, it only loosely oversees them.

But new documents obtained by the International Business Times suggest that the Council does have an active hand in guiding pension money.

David Sirota writes:

The minutes of the State Investment Council (which Christie appoints, and whose official mission is to “formulate policies governing the investment of [state] funds”), show his appointees not only oversee the state’s due diligence reviews of specific managers but also offer guidance to New Jersey Treasury Department officials about managers. Christie appointees at times cast votes on specific investments and have spearheaded the recruitment and subsequent appointment of the official who runs the state’s Division of Investment.

According to minutes of the State Investment Council, most of New Jersey’s investments in private equity, hedge funds, venture capital and other so-called alternative investments are reviewed by Christie appointees on the Investment Policy Committee (a subcommittee of the State Investment Council). Typically, the minutes show State Investment Council Chairman Robert Grady reports the committee “discussed the investment and was satisfied that the due diligence that was performed was adequate and appropriate.”

Grady was appointed to the council by Christie. He also serves as the Chairman of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers, and state documents show he was in regular contact with Christie administration and campaign officials. The governor has described him as a longtime friend.

The State Investment Council debates the merits of specific investments in open session, offering advice to Department of Treasury staffers about the specific money manager being given a New Jersey pension contract. Because the council has influence over the selection of specific managers, Grady and another Christie appointee, real estate investor Jeffrey Oram, have recused themselves from deliberations that involve managers to whom they might have a financial connection.

The documents also reveal a few examples of members explicitly voting to approve (or disapprove) big investments with money managers. From the report:

– On Dec. 8, 2011, Grady spearheaded a proposal to invest as much as $1.8 billion of New Jersey money in the Blackstone Group. State records show “a motion was made by Chair Grady to approve the Blackstone investments,” the motion “was seconded by Council Member Oram,” and the investment in Blackstone was subsequently approved on a 7-2 vote. As IBTimes previously reported, Grady’s private firm was investing in one of the same Blackstone funds though Grady did not disclose that at the time of the vote.

– On July 21, 2011, the council voted on a quarter-billion-dollar investment in Blackstone Resources Select Fund. After a debate, the council voted against a motion to halt the investment.

– On June 11, 2011, the council voted to approve a financial maneuver to facilitate a specific transaction with a firm called RLJ Lodging Trust.

In addition to overseeing and voting on specific investments, Christie appointees oversee the appointment of the state official who runs the state’s Division of Investment.

Christie yesterday offered his first extensive defense against conflict of interest allegations.

 

Photo by Truthout.org via Flickr CC License

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