At least there is balance in the world of New Jersey Democrats grandstanding on serious issues to take a shot at their rivals.
Gov. Phil Murphy started the month by using the otherwise legitimate issue of tax incentives for businesses to go after Senate President Steve Sweeney and South Jersey political powerbroker George Norcross.
A couple of weeks later the governor conditionally vetoed a Sweeney orchestrated bill that used the otherwise legitimate issue of campaign finance disclosure to embarrass and afflict Murphy supporters.
The bill was introduced three years ago and appropriately stalled. As we said at the start of this year, “The case against undisclosed donations to issue-advocacy groups doesn’t look strong enough yet to proceed with a bill that looks like it might create more problems than it solves.”
But then a group with ties to Murphy — New Direction New Jersey — reneged on its pledge to voluntarily disclose its donors. Sweeney fast-tracked an amended version of the bill to require disclosure retroactively to cover New Direction’s first year, but then pulled that provision before the bill passed in March.
Since politics played a role in getting the bill to Murphy’s desk, it’s no surprise that politics figures in his conditional veto. He told the Legislature he won’t sign it unless it includes a new section requiring companies that receive state incentives to meet contribution disclosure requirements too.
Like the earlier chest-thumping over tax incentives, this over election funding disclosure comes as Democratic leaders fight over the next state budget — due in about a month — and whose vision for the state and quest for political power will prevail.
That’s fine, but once again a serious issue is getting shabby political treatment.
The New Jersey ACLU opposed the bill as too broad, impacting 15,000 organizations in the state that mostly are nonpartisan and neither endorse nor work for candidates. Executive Director Amol Sinha told NJ Spotlight that the bill defines political communication more broadly “than any other law at the federal level or state level in the nation.” The group worries that donors would fear that they’d be targeted for their political views and stop giving.
The League of Women Voters of New Jersey supports the idea of telling voters who is influencing elections, said Jesse Burns, executive director. “But we have expressed reservations about the unintended consequences some of the language could have on nonpartisan or grassroots groups that are transparent, while allowing other groups to continue to operate in the shadows.” She said the conditional veto offers a chance to better address campaign finance transparency.
Disclosure might be beneficial in some cases, and it might stifle voices in others.
The major political parties could use the changes to help prevent voters from having an alternative to their remaining in power. And money might well find another undisclosed way into the political process as it has in the past.
The political use of this issue just makes it more apparent that this isn’t the time for legislation on this important matter.