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Benson Introduces Legislation to Increase Transparency & Safeguard Taxpayer Dollars Against Lobbying Activities

Measure Was Inspired in Part by Recent Sandy-Related Contracts Awarded by Christie Admin

Due to the massive influx of federal dollars heading to New Jersey in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, as well as the recent corruption charges in Hamilton, Assemblyman Daniel Benson has introduced legislation to help protect taxpayer dollars by ensuring greater transparency when it comes to lobbying efforts aimed at influencing local government activities.

“The very future of many municipalities ravaged by Sandy depends on the wise and efficient use of federal aid that is headed to our state,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We can’t afford to have that money squandered by politically-connected opportunity seekers that may not have the best interest of residents and business owners in mind. The massive rebuilding process ahead requires that every available public dollar be spent wisely.

Benson noted that while the bill was prompted by recent reports that a politically-connected firm contracted by the Christie Administration to handle Sandy-related debris removal – AshBritt – had hired lobbyists and political consultants to win contracts with dozens of local governments for storm cleanup, the bill would also help prevent situations such as the one that recently led to the conviction of former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo on federal corruption charges.

The bill (A-3882) would require that all government affairs agents who seek to influence a local measure, local regulation or local governmental process or who seek to provide a benefit to certain local officials, local governments and schools to follow the same disclosure and reporting requirements that government affairs agents must follow on a statewide level. Under the provisions of the legislation, local lobbyists would be required to file a notice of representation with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) prior to attempting to exercise influence on local government officials.

“We’ve seen taxpayer money squandered at the local level by this type of activity even before Sandy hit and without this legislation we’ll remain vulnerable to this type of activity long after we recover,” said Benson. “This legislation is necessary to safeguard taxpayer interests both now and well into the future.”

The bill would also limit gifts from lobbyists to local elected officials, their employees or their immediate families of more than $250 annually.

Additionally the bill would limit the ability of a local elected official, local chief executive or the head of a local government department or agency to register as a governmental affairs agent in the municipality, county, authority or school district in which the person works or holds public office.

An identical bill in the Senate is awaiting a vote before the full body.