New Jersey lawmakers passed the Elections Transparency Act, a legislation that seeks to increase the amount of donations allowed in political campaigns and limit investigations of campaigns.
The bill, sponsored by Senate President Nicholas “No-Show Nick” Scutari, is expected to increase corruption in campaigns and taint the independence of the state’s watchdog agency, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
Scutari, seen in the image above with his former chief of staff Antonio ‘Tony’ Teixeira—the recently confessed swindler who fleeced another Union County politician for more than $100,000 in concert with contract-killer Sean Caddle—has benefited from the kind of shady political deals that would be supercharged by the changes made by the law.
The bill would raise limits on political donations, require additional disclosure from dark money groups, and reduce the time that ELEC has to investigate violations by 80 percent.
It would also allow the governor to replace commissioners of ELEC without Senate approval. The three current commissioners of ELEC have resigned in protest of the legislation.
The move is expected to defang the agency and trample on its independence while removing its ability to penalize violators of campaign finance law.
New Jersey Forward Party leader Brian Varela called it an, “attempt by our elected officials to undermine the voice of the people is the proposed Election Transparency Act (ETA), also known as Public Corruption Authorization Act.”
Governor Phil Murphy is expected to sign the bill despite objections from advocates who have warned that the changes would weaken oversight and do little to make the system more transparent.
Critics of have raised concerns that the proposed changes would weaken oversight and transparency in New Jersey’s campaign finance system.
“One of the most significant criticisms is that the bill would drastically raise limits on political giving, which would allow big donors and business interests to have even more control over political campaigns,” said Varela, a reform advocate. “The act also consolidates power among the select few party bosses who will be able to direct these funds to politicians who ‘play ball.’ The incumbent who chooses not to tow the party line could find themselves facing a well-financed primary opponent.”
“This along with losing the county line will almost guarantee a failed re-election campaign,” said Varela. “They could lose their position by acting in the interest of their constituents.”
Arati Kreibich, director of democracy organizing at the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, stated, “If this bill passes, the biggest donors, the biggest business interests are going to have even more control over what is going on in our daily lives. This is the opposite of what democracy is.”
Philip Hensley, democracy policy analyst for the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, also criticized the bill, saying, “There’s a lot in this bill, and almost all of it is bad.”
Hensley added that the proposed increases in donation limits would “undermine the integrity of our election process by giving the wealthy and special interests even more power to sway the outcome of elections.”
Critics also argue that the bill would limit investigations of campaigns, which would decrease transparency and accountability.
The bill would reduce the time the ELEC has to investigate violations by 80 percent. According to the commissioners who resigned in protest of the measure, the bill would defang the watchdog agency and remove its ability to penalize violators of campaign finance law.
The bill would taint the independence of the political money watchdog agency by granting the governor more power over the commissioners that oversee elections. The bill would allow the governor to replace the agency’s current commissioners without Senate approval, which would give the governor partisan influence over the agency’s decisions.
Critics have also pointed out that the bill’s proposed changes to disclosure requirements for independent expenditure groups would do little to increase transparency.
Such groups face lax disclosure requirements, and the proposed changes would still leave their rules weaker than those imposed on party organizations and candidates.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, a minion of South Jersey political boss George Norcross and a chief sponsor of the bill, argued that the proposed changes would bring more transparency to campaign spending.
He stated, “Dark money continues to be raised and spent all without the proper disclosure that gives the press, our taxpayers, and the voters the ability to ask the right questions: who, why, and for what purpose.”
However, critics have argued that the proposed changes would do more harm than good, as they would give big donors and business interests more control over political campaigns and limit the watchdog agency’s ability to investigate campaign finance violations.
The three commissioners who comprise ELEC resigned in protest on Thursday afternoon.
ELEC Chairman Eric Jaso and Commissioners Stephen Holden and Marguerite Simon, were expected to find themselves on the chopping block after Democrats who control both chambers of the Legislature passed a bill with some GOP support to grant the governor more power over the watchdog agency.
Holden told a reporter that each of the commissioners resigned “clearly thinking the legislative purpose and our concern for fairness and nonpartisanship is not part of what the executive branch wants at this time, so we’re unwilling to serve it.”