Will Gov. Phil Murphy's legacy be gutting campaign finance reform … – Planet Princeton

April 03, 2023 
The New Jersey Assembly and Senate paved the way on Thursday for Gov. Phil Murphy to sign a bill that will increase campaign limits, allow for campaign “household” slush funds, allow companies with government contracts to contribute to political party campaign committees, lower the state’s statute of limitations for penalizing those who violate campaign finance rules, and remove the independence of the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency.
Murphy is likely to sign the bill that would undo the campaign finance reform efforts citizens groups, Gov. Jim McGreevey, and Gov. Richard Codey fought for more than two decades ago.
The Assembly voted 42-30 Thursday to approve the ridiculously named “elections transparency act” bill that allows larger campaign contributions and loosens the restrictions on donations from government contractors, with most Democrats and about half a dozen Republicans supporting the bill. Local Democrats Roy Freiman, Wayne DeAngelo, Anthony Verrelli, and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson voted for the bill that good government groups opposed. Dan Benson, who is running for county executive in Mercer County and thus has something at stake in terms of voter support, voted no. Sadaf Jaffer did not vote.
A last-minute push by local Democrats in the Princeton area pleading with Freiman to vote no didn’t change his mind. Many local Democrats have vowed to no longer financially support the Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate who voted for the bill.
“This bill effectively rolls back years, years of progress in fighting corruption in our election system,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Morris).
The lone Democratic senator to vote against the bill, Nina Gill (D-Essex) said the state needs campaign finance reform that is based on a foundation of transparency and that removes improper influence from elections. “A fair and impartial campaign finance system is essential to preserving the foundations of our democracy,” Gill told Gothamist. “This legislation creates the opposite.“
Under the legislation, local laws regarding campaign finance reform can’t be stronger than the state’s weaker law. Many municipalities like Lawrence and Hopewell have stricter campaign contribution laws than those in the bill. Those local regulations would become null and void if the governor signs the bill.
The one area where the bill actually promotes transparency is that dark money groups would be required to report donations of more than $7,500, which can currently be kept secret.
The bill shortens the time the watchdog Election Law Enforcement Commission can investigate campaign finance violations from 10 years to two.  The bill also allows the governor to replace the ELEC commissioners without Senate confirmation, essentially giving the governor the power to control the commission.
After the Assembly vote, the three members of the commission submitted their resignations. ELEC Chairman Eric Jaso said in his resignation letter that the law would “largely gut ELEC” and “render it unable to further its missions of transparency and accountability.”
Related story: Why you should care about the N.J. Legislature’s proposed ‘elections transparency act’
The N.J. Assembly vote:
Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. Follow her on Twitter @krystalknapp. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.
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