Bill Would Close Down Loophole Which Allowed Candidates to Use School Offices as ‘Campaign ATM’
TRENTON – In response to reports that members of the Elizabeth School Board pressured teachers and other employees on school property to make campaign contributions, a bill sponsored by Senator Raymond J. Lesniak which would make political fundraising from any candidate on public property illegal was unanimously approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee today.
“There’s simply no good reason for any elected official or someone seeking elected office to treat public service like a personal campaign ATM,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “However, we’ve seen instances, most recently in my own hometown, of politicians shaking down public employees for campaign contributions, with threats of workplace retaliation should they not comply. Public employees shouldn’t feel that they’re required to contribute to an employer’s political campaign in order to ensure job security or advancement – it taints the political and governmental processes and blurs the line between public service and no holds barred politics.”
The bill, S-3166, would prohibit candidates or elected office-holders – or anyone representing a candidate – from directly or indirectly soliciting a campaign contribution on any property exclusively owned or leased by a public entity. The bill would also prohibit any person, while located on public property, from directly or indirectly making any contribution to, or on behalf of, a candidate for an elective public office, or any other political campaign funding apparatus. The bill would confer jurisdiction upon the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) to enforce the provisions of the bill, and anyone who is determined to be in violation of the bill would be subject to a penalty of not less than $5,000 for each violation.
The bill also clarifies that school property constitutes public property for the purposes of the prohibition on campaign fundraising under this bill.
The bill stems from reports that members of the Elizabeth School Board routinely pressured teachers and other employees on school property to make campaign contributions and purchase tickets to political fundraisers. While the current law prohibits candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the State Legislature from soliciting or receiving campaign donations on public property, the law is silent on candidates for local and county elected office, and is unclear as to whether or not school property is considered public property. Senator Lesniak’s bill would create a universal prohibition against political fundraising on any publicly owned or leased property.
“Whether you’re running for Governor of the State of New Jersey or for local dogcatcher, ethics is ethics, and certain behavior is just not acceptable,” said Senator Lesniak. “This bill extends the prohibition against campaign fundraising on public property to all elected officeholders and office-seekers, not just those who participate on the State level of government. It’s simply the right thing to do, and ensures that the hard-working men and women engaged in public service can focus on doing their jobs on behalf of the taxpayers, without getting forced to support a candidate or candidates for fear of losing those jobs.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.