Editorial: Dark Money Groups Need Sunlight

When government does something right, which happens about as frequently as Sunday’s lunar eclipse, we feel obliged to point it out and commend it, if only to remind ourselves that our tax money isn’t being wasted.

New Jersey lawmakers have advanced legislation that would expose “dark money” groups that raise funding to influence elections and policy in our state.

The legislation, originally written by Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Delran, when he was in the Assembly, would require nonprofit 501(c)4s, super political action committees and other similar groups to disclose their contributors, and also would raise the donor disclosure threshold from $300 to $10,000.

It took three years for legislators to get the bill out of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, but at least they succeeded, and unanimously, too. We support it.

The measure had languished until this month, following a couple of illuminating news stories:

  • Nonprofit New Direction New Jersey paid for advertising promoting Gov. Phil Murphy’s agenda, and Murphy raised money to support its activities. The group has refused to release its donors’ names after saying last year that it would.
  • PSEG, the parent company of Public Service Electric & Gas, mistakenly sent $55,000 to General Majority PAC, which is linked to Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, a close ally to Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford. The money was supposed to go to the General Growth Fund, a 501(c)4 linked to Norcross.

Both groups can spend unlimited amounts in support of or in opposition to political candidates or causes. But unlike super PACs, which must report their contributors to the Federal Election Commission, 501(c)4s do not have to reveal their donors.

Murphy says New Direction New Jersey should disclose its contributors. Sweeney says he backs Singleton’s bill. There’s been a lot of saying, but not a lot of doing. Until now.

Singleton said the legislation is a first step to restore the public’s trust in government and hold elected officials accountable. “Voters deserve to know who is trying to influence their elected representatives’ vote,” he said.

Indeed. In 2017, independent expenditure groups spent more than $47 million in New Jersey elections, while state and county political committees, which must disclose contributions and expenditures, spent about $27 million. That’s a lot of coin.

There are concerns about the legislation, with some saying it’s too broad and could jeopardize the privacy of people who donate to nonpartisan groups like the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union.

Singleton is willing to discuss changes, as long as all groups that seek to influence legislation and policy are subject to disclosure requirements. As Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, pointed out: “Without reform, New Jersey’s election landscape will be transformed in a way that undermines the public’s interests.”

That’s all that matters.

The bill still has to be fine-tuned, approved by the Senate and Assembly, and signed by Murphy — you know, the way we expect our government to work. With efficiency, and on our behalf.

We’re not asking for the moon. A little sunlight should be shined on dark money.

Original Article