Dark Money Disclosure Bill Advanced To Gov. Phil Murphy's Desk

Murphy has expressed support requiring disclosure but has not indicated if he would sign the legislation as written.

TRENTON — Legislation to require so-called “dark money” groups operating in New Jersey to reveal their donors has reached Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

Following several amendments and rewrites, the Assembly and Senate voted Monday to give final approval to the campaign finance reform bill. It marks the first time the legislation has made it to the governor’s desk for consideration after languishing in both chambers for years.

Murphy has expressed support for requiring disclosure, but has not indicated if he would sign the bill as written.

Sen. Troy Singleton, who penned the measure in 2016 and persistently pushed for its approval, said he hasn’t heard from the Governor’s Office about Murphy’s disposition on the final legislation. He said he’s hopeful it will be signed.

″(Murphy) has talked a lot in the past about enhancing transparency for the types of entities covered by this proposal, so I’m hopeful that he will expeditiously sign this initiative into law,” Singleton, D-7th of Delran, said Tuesday.

Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, has also pushed for the legislation. He has said dark-money-group spending in New Jersey grew from next to nothing 16 years ago to close to $50 million in 2017.

The bill has undergone several changes after being approved by the Senate last month, but it would still mandate the disclosure of contributors who give more than $10,000 to nonprofit 501(c)4 groups that are not currently subject to disclosure requirements if they engage in political activities, lobbying or campaigning. It would also mandate the disclosure of expenses of more than $3,000 and would also boost contribution limits to state and county political committees. Those groups are already subject to strict reporting requirements but have been usurped by dark-money groups in recent years.

Stricken from the bill was language that would have made it retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. That component garnered controversy because it would have ensured that a group known as New Direction New Jersey, which paid for advertising promoting Murphy’s agenda last year during a budget battle with legislative leaders, would be revealed.

New Direction New Jersey’s leaders had indicated they would voluntarily release their donors before announcing earlier this year they would not do so.

The Assembly removed the retroactive language, and the Senate removed wording making 501(c)6s, such as chambers of commerce, trade boards and business leagues, subject to the requirements.

The bill has still garnered opposition from several nonprofits that have complained it is too broad and could jeopardize the privacy of people who donate to nonpartisan groups like the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union, which frequently advocate for or against legislation and policies but don’t spend independently on political elections.

Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU, has said the measure could unintentionally have a “chilling effect” on the ACLU and other groups.

“We advocate for transparency, but we also advocate for privacy,” Sinha said during a January hearing on the bill, adding that a distinction should be made between nonpartisan and independent expenditure groups.

Supporters have said the bill doesn’t seek to discriminate between so-called “good or bad actors,” but requires disclosure of all groups that want to sway elections, legislation or policy.

If signed into law by Murphy, the legislation would not take effect until after the June primary election.

Original Article