TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Ellen Karcher and Barbara Buono which would prohibit any State or local public agencies from making campaign contributions using public dollars was unanimously approved by the Assembly State Government Committee today.
“With New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes, the people of the Garden State cannot afford to subsidize a politician’s campaign war chest,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer. “However, through a loophole in current law, public funds have been diverted into the campaign coffers of well-connected lawmakers, at the expense of accountable government. We need to close this loophole, and ensure taxpayers’ dollars aren’t wasted currying favor through the pay-to-play process.”
“Allowing public entities to make campaign donations with public funds is absurd, and the practice needs to end now,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “It violates the taxpayers’ trust in their public leaders, and sends the message that funding for worthy programs can be bought with campaign donations. While we’ve taken steps to prohibit pay-to-play from the private sector, we have to set an example by stopping the flow of public funds to campaign accounts.”
The Senators’ bill, S-222, would prohibit any State or local public agencies from contributing to a candidate for elective public office or to any candidate committee, joint candidates committee, or any political party committee. The bill also prohibits a candidate or committee from accepting any such contribution. The bill defines “public agencies” broadly, to include every State or local governmental entity, including institutions for higher education. The bill also stipulates that anyone who willfully violates the bill’s provisions would be liable for a fine of up to $200,000, depending on the size of the contribution, and any violator who holds an elective public office may be required to forfeit that office.
“Taxpayers in New Jersey are stretched to the limit, and we must find ways to put downward pressure on our State’s soaring tax rate,” said Senator Buono. “However, as long as public funds can be wasted on political contributions, any effort to curb runaway taxes is meaningless. First and foremost, we need to do everything we can to remove waste and abuse of tax dollars in our own backyard, before we can begin imposing tough tax-cutting sanctions elsewhere.”
“We want to send a message that collection taxpayer-funded political donations would not be tolerated,” said Senator Karcher. “The tough penalties outlined under the bill are a reminder that the public trust cannot be bought and sold, whether the perpetrator is a private contractor or a public official.”
The bill now heads to the full Assembly for consideration. It was unanimously approved by the Senate in February.