Reforms Will Provide Greater Transparency to ‘Dark Money’ Groups
TRENTON – The Senate today approved legislation that would require independent advocacy committees to disclose their donors, bringing greater transparency to organizations that work to influence the political process. Sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton and Senator Linda Greenstein, the bill, S-150, would require the so-called “dark money” groups to make public their expenditures and donors.
Senator Singleton said the measure would add accountability to special-interest spending and help rebuild public trust in government.
“This bill will make significant progress in delivering reforms that lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds the activities of groups working to influence the political process. These dark money groups with benign sounding names have been operating in the shadows, spending large sums of money from undisclosed sources to influence the legislative, regulatory and election processes,” said Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington). “At a time of increased misinformation and distrust it is more important than ever that the public is provided the information they need to make informed decisions on the policies that impact their lives. Full disclosure will improve the credibility of government and enhance the public’s trust.”
The legislation would revise “The New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act” to institute new reporting requirements for contributions over $10,000 and all expenditures over $3,000 by organizations attempting to influence the outcome of any election and support or oppose any public question, legislation, or regulation or to provide political information on any candidate, public question, piece of legislation, or regulation.
“The public has a right to know what actions are being committed by organizations working to influence our political process,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “As candidates, we disclose our donors and expenditures. The disclosure requirements should extend to the groups that are spending to get favored outcomes. The public deserves transparency in government and these reforms would pull back the curtain protecting these groups.”
According to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, the top 25 special interest groups spent more than $74 million trying to influence elections and policies in 2017, through super PACs, political action committees or lobbying. Of that, $41 million was so-called “dark money,” the contributions these non-profit organizations can receive from corporations, individuals and unions without having to disclose their donors.
The bill also updates contribution limits. It increases the amount of money that can be contributed to a candidate from $2,600 to $3,000; from $8,200 to $9,300 for political committees; to state political parties and legislative leadership committees from $25,000 to $28,000 from individuals and most groups, and from $72,000 to $82,000 for money from a national political party to a state committee. Contributions to county political parties would go from $37,000 to $42,000; from $7,200 to $8,200 for donations to municipal committees of a political party; and from $7,200 to $8,200 for money to political committees.
These increased limits encourage more support for the political parties – which already operate with full disclosure – helping to shift the disproportionate influence away from special interest spending, Senator Singleton said.
The legislation was approved with a vote of 35-0.