Gov. Phil Murphy, Lawmakers Reach Deal On Dark Money Disclosure

Murphy had conditionally vetoed the measure last month and the deal reached Monday spares him from becoming the first governor in more than 20 years to have their veto overruled.

TRENTON — Cross dark money disclosure from the list of issues Gov. Phil Murphy and state lawmakers are fighting about.

Facing the strong likelihood that lawmakers might vote to override his earlier veto, the Democratic governor reversed course and agreed to sign the legislation originally sent to him.

Murphy had conditionally vetoed the measure last month and the deal reached Monday spares him from becoming the first governor in more than 20 years to have their veto overridden by the Legislature. Instead, lawmakers agreed to vote again on the original legislation and Murphy has agreed to sign it with no changes, according to legislative leaders and other officials.

The bill mandates 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 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.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved by both the Senate and Assembly in March, but Murphy conditionally vetoed it, stating that it contained “egregious loopholes” and failed to “create reasonable and consistent disclosure standards across the board.”

Murphy’s veto recommended eliminating several provisions, including language that would likely restrict his former campaign manager, Brendan Gill, from managing New Direction New Jersey, a 501(c)4 that has paid for advertising promoting the governor’s agenda, including recent television spots featuring Murphy advocating for his proposed income tax hike on earnings over $1 million. The group originally promised to voluntarily release its donors, but announced earlier this year it would not do so.

The veto also took a thinly veiled swipe at Senate President Stephen Sweeney and other lawmakers who support reauthorizing Economic Development Authority tax credits by proposing language that would subject companies receiving “large-scale tax credits” from the state to disclosure requirements of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

None of Murphy’s recommendations were incorporated into the legislation, which was voted out of both chambers Monday afternoon and returned to Murphy to sign. However, some changes could be made in subsequent legislation after the governor acts.

The bill was approved by a vote of 35-0 in the Senate and by a vote of 68-0, with four abstentions, in the Assembly.

“The governor looks forward to signing the legislation while working with the Legislature to resolve outstanding issues by the end of the month,” said press secretary Alyana Alfaro.

Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Delran, was the prime sponsor of the legislation with Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker.

“I am appreciative of the governor and legislative leadership’s desire to work with Andrew and I to get a resolution,” Singleton said Monday morning.

In a statement later in the afternoon, he said the measure would “lift the veil of secrecy” surrounding activities of groups “working to influence the political process.”

Zwicker, D-16th of South Brunswick, also thanked the governor for working cooperatively with them.

“This is, above all, a good government bill. The people of New Jersey deserve to know the origin of the money used to influence our political process,” Zwicker said in a statement. “Transparency is critical if we are to ensure the trust of the public. This bill goes a long way to achieving that goal.”

Several nonprofit groups have complained the measure is too broad and could jeopardize the privacy of people who donate to 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.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th of Teaneck, said she hoped some of those concerns might be addressed in separate legislation.

The legislation was originally introduced by Singleton in 2016 at the urging of ELEC’s director, Jeff Brindle, who expressed concerns about the rapid increase in dark-money-group spending over the last decade.

The bill received little attention before this year, when it gained traction in the wake of news reports about dark-money groups aiding Murphy and Sweeney.

Murphy has admitted to raising funds for New Direction New Jersey despite the group’s refusal to voluntarily disclose its donors. Recently, it was revealed that the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, contributed at least $2.5 million to the group.

The issue gained more attention after the website Politico reported that PSEG, which is the parent company of New Jersey utility Public Service Electric & Gas, mistakenly sent a $55,000 contribution to General Majority PAC, which is a super PAC linked to George Norcross, a Democratic power broker and close ally to Sweeney.

Politico reported the contribution was intended to go to the General Growth Fund, which is a 501(c)4 linked to Norcross, who is also warring with the governor over tax incentives.

Both groups are permitted to spend unlimited amounts in support of or opposition to political candidates or causes. But unlike super PACs, which are required to report their contributors to the Federal Election Commission, 501(c)4s, or “social interest” groups, are not required to reveal their donors.

Original Article