Sweeney, Buono, Sarlo, Scutari to Amend Disclosure Legislation to Prohibit Contributions to 501(c)4 Groups By State Contract Holders
TRENTON – Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Senators Nicholas P. Scutari and Paul Sarlo today said they will seek to prohibit state contractors from donating to political shadow organizations, saying that the front groups are just as political as the party organizations they seek to augment and should be subject to the same pay-to-play rules.
The lawmakers said their call stems from the controversy raised over the recent fundraising by a group that calls itself “Reform Jersey Now,” but is a collection of top political advisors to Governor Christie. Earlier this month, the group paid for mailers in certain legislative districts – including Sweeney’s – expressly promoting the Governors agenda and urging recipients to call Democratic lawmakers and demand they support the Governor. The group openly tells contributors that state disclosure rules allow them to make unlimited, unreportable donations.
“Groups like Reform Jersey Now are simply fronts for their political parties, so they should be treated just like an arm of a political party,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “They should be subject to the state’s financial disclosure laws. And they should have to live by the same pay-to-play laws that political parties do, too.”
“Many of these so-called advocacy organizations are simply political machines marching under a different name and to a different set of laws,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “Allowing this disparity to continue would only render our campaign finance and pay-to-play laws useless. Groups like Reform Jersey Now need to live up to a higher ethical standard.”
Invitations to events featuring Governor Christie and hosted by Reform Jersey Now include specific language that the group “may lawfully accept donations from any source — corporate or individual — in unlimited amounts” that “are not affected by the pay-to-play statutes … or by applicable executive orders.”
Under current law, any vendor that holds a state contract valued at more than $17,500 is barred from contributing to a partisan political organization. However, the law does not apply to non-profit political advocacy organizations – like Reform Jersey Now – that can skirt the pay-to-play law and collect unlimited contributions from contractors.
The lawmakers said the provision would be implemented as an amendment to current legislation (S-2076) sponsored by Senator Scutari that would require 501(c)4 organizations to disclose their contributors.
“Reform Jersey Now is simply undertaking a role historically reserved for the Republican State Committee, but using a loophole in our law to make an end-run around all of our reporting laws,” said Scutari (D-Union). “This group is doing nothing more than hiding behind its federal nonprofit status to play politics.”
“The loophole that is allowing this political shadow group to fundraise outside the bounds of our campaign finance laws must be closed,” said Sarlo (D-Bergen). “For a Republican Party that fought so tirelessly against pay-to-play and claims to hold itself to the highest standards of ethics, this whole episode is just plain hypocritical and disappointing.”