TRENTON – At a Statehouse news conference today, State Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle unveiled legislation to update New Jersey’s pay-to-play ban, tightening restrictions on acceptable political donations and banning the practice of wheeling, in which campaign donations are shuttled between State, county or municipal accounts to hide the true Dest of the donation.
“Pay-to-play is a scourge to good government, and it gives the impression that lucrative government contracts can be bought and sold for the right price,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “In 2004, New Jersey made history with the original pay-to-play law, but in the last six years, the corrupting influence of pay-to-play politics has managed to seep into the system through other means. This bill represents a needed update of pay-to-play restrictions to close down loopholes and preserve the integrity of government decisions.”
“Our goal is to help put government back in the hands of the people,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen. “By limiting the ability of special interests to drive decision making we will, in turn, limit their ability to drive up the costs of government.”
The bill, which was introduced in both houses of the Legislature today, would expand upon the pay-to-play reforms sponsored by Senator Weinberg and enacted in 2004. The new reform bill would ban county political organizations from donating to other county political organizations or municipalities in other counties, and would ban municipal political organizations from donating to other municipal organizations. The bill would also restrict the amount of money that local political organizations can donate to the State party, to an aggregate of $25,000 per year, and would prohibit campaign contributors from donating to any political organization which contributes to one which they would otherwise be prohibited from donating under pay-to-play restrictions.
“The wheeling loophole in the current pay-to-play law has allowed unscrupulous contractors and politicians an opportunity to circumvent the intent of pay-to-play protections,” said Senator Weinberg. “This is a practice which has to come to an end.”
“Ultimately this is about removing the outside factors that drive up the costs of government and unduly influence decision making. While previous efforts have done some good to stem these outside influences, there are still many loopholes that remain that this bill seeks to address,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen.
The bill would also codify existing executive orders which focused on pay-to-play among redevelopment contractors, and which prohibited municipal political parties and legislative leadership accounts from accepting donations from entities seeking public contracts in the municipalities affected by the contract. The bill would remove the exemption for contracts which were bid in a “fair and open process,” from having to comply with pay-to-play restrictions. And it would expand the definition of business entity to include limited liability partnerships and the immediate family members of contractors, if they are the sole owner of the business entity.
Under the bill, officials who have ultimate decision-making authority over public contracts would be restricted from receiving $300 per year from an individual involved in a government contract, $1,000 per year from a business entity involved in a municipal government contract, and $5,000 per year from a business entity involved in a State government contract. Finally, the bill would require that the stipulations of pay-to-play reform, as well as penalties for non-compliance, be included in all public contracts and bid specifications.
“We applaud Senator Weinberg for sponsoring comprehensive pay to play reform legislation, which expands the strong state level ban on state contractor contributions to all levels of government,” said Heather Taylor, Communications Director for the Citizens’ Campaign, who was also in attendance at today’s news conference. “A comprehensive, effective, and uniform pay-to-play law, as introduced today, will bring significant savings to towns and counties throughout the state by restoring cost-effectiveness and competition to local government contracting. In light of the property tax cap facing local government, this cost-savings measure is immediately needed. “
“Good government isn’t just better government – it’s also cheaper government,” said Senator Weinberg. “It’s time that the taxpayers of the Garden State get a government they can be proud of, and adding this bill to the ‘tool kit’ will go a long way to accomplishing this goal.”