Following a review of the recently introduced "pay-to-play" bill, The Citizens Campaign called on legislators today to go back to the drawing board and deliver genuine reform.
Senate bill S-2748, sponsored by Senators Jim Beach (D-6) and Linda Greenstein (D-14), was initially heralded via press release as a statewide reform solution, but it appears to gut the current strong state-level pay-to-play reform law and repeal the hundreds of local laws that have proven to be effective in eliminating the practice of pay-to-play.
“Citizens across New Jersey have fought far too hard over the last ten years to bring real reforms to their towns, counties, and state, we cannot afford to have these strong laws repealed and left with no protections,” said Heather Taylor. “We agree that a uniform standard is the best solution, but not a weak standard that forces contractors to once again ‘pay to play’ to get government contracts.”
Since 2001 The Citizens Campaign has championed public contracting "anti-pay-to-play" reforms that sever the link between campaign contributions and the awarding of government contracts.
In 2005, the New Jersey Legislature adopted P.L. 2005, c. 51 which has been hailed as the strongest pay-to-play law in the nation, and it was upheld as constitutional by the NJ Supreme Court. In 2009, Governor Corzine expanded the state pay-to-play law to cover redevelopment projects, such as the Encap/American Dream. And more than 90 municipalities and two counties have adopted strong anti-pay-to-play laws. Senate bill 2748 would repeal these laws and replace them with a revised version of the loophole-laden “fair and open” process.
Apparent loopholes in the legislation:
1) Eliminates any restrictions on redevelopers (Supercedes EO 118 signed by Governor Corzine)
2) Eliminates restrictions on political parties, as long as the “fair and open” process is used.
3) Remove limits on state contractors contributing to County and Municipal Parties and Legislative Leadership Committees.
4) Completely removes Political Committees and Continuing Political Committees (PACs) from the any pay-to-play prohibitions.
5) Provides for simple and legal circumvention through the political parties: For example, State Contractors would only be barred from contributing to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. NO restrictions on contributions to the Political Parties or PACs;
6) Provides a roadmap for circumvention via political committees and continuing political committees controlled by employees of business entities.
7) No restrictions on the candidates running against the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. The bill states a business entity may not make a contribution to:
“ Any candidate committee of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor serving when the contract is awarded,”
“And any business entity that enters into a contract shall not make a contribution to any candidate committee of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor serving when the contract is awarded during the term of the contract.”
8) Eliminates the breach of contract penalty enforced by the contracting entity, instead the penalty would be a fine imposed by ELEC. In a state with more than 1600 units of government, this is an unbearable burden for ELEC, and a recipe for no enforcement.
9) Removes the anti-circumvention clause that was in P.L. 2005, c. 51
10) Supercedes and eliminate all local ordinances.
11) Another troubling aspect of the bill is that it raises the contribution limit to county political parties to $42,000. Rather than increasing the limit, the county party limit should be lowered and brought in proportion with the rest of the political parties. Currently a municipal political party can take up to $7,800 and the state political parties can take up to $25,000 annually. A $15,000 or $20,000 limit to the county parties would be a more reasonable limit.
12) Does not prevent wheeling from one county party to another from June 1st to December 31st. (Current state law bans wheeling from January 1st – June 30th.)
The Citizens Campaign supports the expanded contribution disclosure requirements to 501(c) issue advocacy groups, such as the reforms outlined in A-3863. But, the disclosure of these groups does not outweigh or eliminate the need for strong pay-to-play reform, they are both necessary taxpayer protections to ensure integrity in our elections and governance.
Any new or current legislation should include a requirement for the contributing individual or business entity to identify if they are a government contractor. With immediate pinpoint disclosure of one’s contractor status, we would be able to identify in real time if any businesses are circumventing the law via shadow PACs and 501 (c) groups.