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Benson & Johnson Legislation to Create Greater Transparency for State Agency Lobbyists Advances

Bill Requiring Greater Disclosure Will Help Protect Taxpayer Dollars

Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Daniel Benson and Gordon Johnson to create greater oversight and transparency when it comes to lobbyists hired to represent state agencies was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

“This bill is designed to protect taxpayers by guarding against ethical and financial indiscretions,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “These requirements will ensure that lobbyists fully disclose their activities while also putting the onus on government agencies to justify the need to hire a lobbyist so that taxpayer dollars aren’t squandered.”

Specifically, the bill (A-1003) would require a governmental affairs agent who is retained or engaged to represent a department, division, agency, board, bureau, office, commission, authority, or any other agency of the state or a subdivision, to file a notice with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) of that representation, as well as quarterly and annual reports on the activities and expenditures specific to that representation.

Currently, the “Legislative and Governmental Process Activities Disclosure Act” requires such reports for governmental affairs agents who are employed, retained or engaged to influence legislation, regulations or governmental processes. However, the law excludes the activities of governmental affairs agents retained by public entities in this state.”

“The ultimate goal of this bill is to create greater transparency in order to protect taxpayer dollars, especially in light of the current budget constraints,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “By shining a light on these practices, we can make sure that they’re justified and not gratuitous.”

The new requirement would apply only to governmental affairs agents who are retained to influence legislation, regulations or governmental processes. It does not apply to those performing services in the course of employment as an officer or employee of the governmental entity, nor does it affect their activities.

The bill would also require government entities that retain governmental affairs agents to file annual reports on the representation by such agents. Additionally, the report must: 1) describe the justification and purpose for retaining the agent; 2) explain why an officer or employee of the government entity cannot provide the same service as the agent; 3) explain why other available resources or means, such as cooperative efforts among government entities, cannot provide the same service as the agent; 4) describe the terms of the agreement with the agent, including total anticipated cost of the agreement; 5) explain why the schedule or method of payment set forth in the agreement was deemed appropriate; and 6) describe the result achieved by the agent.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.