It’s no secret that money drives politics. If you want to know why things are the way they are, follow the money.
Unfortunately, it is not an easy task. While all elected officials are required to disclose a list of people who directly donate money to them, these donations are often only a small fraction of the money that really influences an election or issue.
Under current law, if you donate $ 10 to a political candidate, that candidate must disclose that donation in a report to the Election Law Enforcement Commission. However, if you donated $ 50,000 to what is called a “welfare group,” it might remain a secret.
Average voters generally don’t have that kind of money to give. The large sum of money usually comes from special interests, who hope that their donations will allow them access to elected officials who will decide on issues that may impact their interests.
Governor Phil Murphy admitted to soliciting such donations for a group called New Direction New Jersey. The group is led by some of Murphy’s closest allies and spent $ 500,000 promoting Murphy’s agenda last year during tense budget negotiations. It is what good government groups call “black money” and it is increasingly influencing elections and public policy in ways that are beyond the reach of average voters.
Legislation passed in the State Senate and pending in the Assembly could force disclosure of who pays money into these welfare groups so you can find out who is trying to influence public policy. Why would lawmakers suddenly decide to shed some light on black money? It is far from being an altruistic revelation. As with most things that happen in government, there is a political agenda.
This arose out of the ongoing feud between Murphy and Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester. Sweeney is still mad at the ads New Direction New Jersey ran on behalf of Murphy during last year’s budget fight. He also wants to mitigate the impact of those ads this year and in the future. Sweeney also suspects some of the powerful labor groups that opposed to his re-election in the Senate (including the New Jersey Education Association) are among New Direction’s biggest donors.
And while this bill would force donor disclosure for a group that backs Murphy, it is drafted in a way that exempts a similar group that has backed Sweeney.
Sweeney managed to get this bill through the upper house, but he faces an uncertain future in the House. President Craig Coughlin is still in discussions with grassroots members and stakeholders about the impact of the bill. There are also questions about whether Murphy would sign the bill, as it has a direct impact on an organization run by some of his closest advisers.
Yes this bill becomes law, it could help you better understand who is trying to influence your elected officials and guide public policy. This appears to be an unintended consequence of the ongoing feud between the state’s two main Democrats.
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