Shining a light on ‘dark money’ in New Jersey politics

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The public – as well as politicians trying to figure out who is funding their rivals – may one day soon have access to now-secret information about big contributors to voice advocacy groups that take sides in elections or debates on Statehouse issues. in New Jersey. .

Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said there is real and growing cynicism about the government and campaign finance rules are a key part of that – especially after the Citizens United ruling that allows independent groups to obtain unlimited donations and not to disclose their funders. .

“Transparency has always been one of the fundamental principles of campaign finance regulation. Voters deserve to know who is trying to influence the vote of their elected officials,” Singleton said.

Singleton introduced his bill in 2016, and it eventually got a first hearing in the Senate. It is unclear when it could move to the Assembly, where the committee to which the bill was referred will meet on Thursday but does not have it on its agenda.

There is sudden political impetus for action, in part rooted in questions about who is funding an advocacy group allied to Governor Phil Murphy, as well as a misdirected PSE&G donation that was only disclosed because he was sent to the wrong committee allied with Democratic Eminence George Norcross.

Singleton’s bill would require independent so-called “dark money” groups that spend $3,000 or more on an election or advocacy action on a bill or regulation to disclose all donors who donate more than 10 $000, as well as how they spend their money.

Progressive activists support this part of the bill, but have concerns that it would also restore the ability of county parties to transfer money to quell key insurgent challenges.

Ann Rea, BlueWaveNJ’s electoral reform chair, said lawmakers shouldn’t subvert the intent of the proposal by allowing political parties to “roll” money from one county to another between January and June. .

“It would clearly be dishonest to vote on a bill that stops undisclosed contributions while creating a new avenue for secret donations to reach their campaigns,” Rea said.

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The bill would also increase limits on contributions to political parties and most candidates from 12% to 15%. These have not been raised since 2005, except for gubernatorial candidates.

Jeff Brindle, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, said the best way to manage money in politics is to make sure it flows to responsible parties and candidates.

“Certainly, history has shown that you cannot make money from politics. He always finds his way through the political system,” Brindle said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey opposes the bill because it would require advocacy groups to disclose all contributors who give at least $10,000. Executive Director Amol Sinha fears that donors will stop giving for fear of becoming the target of their ideologies.

“First Amendment rights dictate that people have the right to freedom of speech and association and the right to donate to organizations they wish to support. And they have the right to do so anonymously” , Sinha said.

Senator Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said that according to this logic, people should have the same right to privacy when making anonymous donations to elected officials. He said the same disclosure applied to candidate donations should apply to outside groups seeking to influence the government.

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