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 approved by the Senate today by a vote of 37-0.
“I cannot think of a single valid reason for an elected officeholder or someone seeking office to raise funds on public property, treating public service as if it were a personal campaign ATM,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many instances – most recently in my hometown of Elizabeth – in which public employees have been strong-armed into supporting an elected official’s campaign, because the elected official holds the purse strings, and the employee could face retaliation if they don’t play ball. Not only is this a potential for conflict of interest, but it paints a horrible picture of both the political and governmental process, blurring the line between legitimate 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.
“I don’t care if you’re running for the Governor of New Jersey or for your local dogcatcher – certain unethical behavior cannot, will not, and should not be tolerated,” said Senator Lesniak. “This bill extends the existing, and in my estimation, reasonable prohibition against campaigning on public property to all elected officeholders and office-seekers, and on all public property – not just those who do the people’s business in the Statehouse. This is the right thing to do, and protects the hard-working men and women of the public workforce from harassment and retaliation, freeing them up to do the people’s business without fear of losing their jobs because they didn’t support the candidate who signs their paychecks.”
The bill is scheduled for Assembly consideration later today. If approved, it would go to the Governor to be signed into law.