Looks like there won’t be much light shed soon on the “dark money” that secretly funds New Jersey politics. Not with the kind of fighting that’s happening between the state’s top political leaders.
The legislation took a swipe at a Murphy political ally, his former campaign manager Brendan Gill. In response, Murphy, while arguing he strengthened the legislation with his conditional veto, removed any language from the bill that was aimed at his supporters and instead took a swipe at a Sweeney ally, George Norcross III.
Sweeney pushed for the legislation in an attempt to put pressure on a Murphy-aligned group that broke its promise to be transparent and show who donated to it.
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, went after the group, New Direction New Jersey, a 501(c)4 , which is run by members of Murphy’s inner circle, including Gill, who was the governor’s campaign manager.
The bill was written a way that would force the New Direction New Jersey to disclose its donors. Murphy, however, argued in his conditional veto that the proposal had a loophole that would allow groups like New Direction New Jersey to be exempt from disclosure “merely by coordinating certain activities with a candidate,” which they are permitted to do.
Murphy closed that loophole and effectively strengthened the bill, his office argued.
The bill would have also have barred elected officials from having any involvement in independent expenditure committees. This was a clearly aimed at Gill, who is an Essex County freeholder.
Murphy removed that piece with his conditional veto.
The governor then added language that would require entities that receive more than $25,000 in tax credit subsidies from the state to be more transparent.
This was a swipe at Norcross, in the wake of news reports and findings from a special task force Murphy set up to investigate how tax credits were doled out under former Gov. Chris Christie. Tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives had been awarded to companies and a non-profit associated with Norcross in Camden, where he is chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, an insurance brokerage, and chairman of Cooper Health System.
Under current state law, so-called super PACs, 527 groups, and 501(c)4 “social welfare” organizations are allowed to keep their donors secret as long as they spend less than half of their funds on political activities.
But the legislation (S1500) would require groups to disclose donors who gave $10,000 or more.
Lawmakers can now accept Murphy’s conditions, or try to override his veto. It’s unclear if there’s support for either, which would mean nothing would change.
New Direction gained attention, and angered Sweeney, last year after running ads advocating for the Democratic governor’s agenda during tense budget negotiations last summer with Democratic legislative leaders.
The group promised to name its donors by the end of last year. But that still hasn’t happened, even though Murphy has repeatedly called on the organization’s leaders to be transparent.
When the group broke its promise to disclose its donors, Sweeney called for legislation that would force New Direction New Jersey to do so by having the bill require disclosure retroactive to January 2018.
That provision, however, was stripped from the bill that was sent to Murphy.
The governor, in a statement, argued if lawmakers adopted his changes they’d be “strengthening disclosure requirements” that would “help bring greater transparency to the work of government and enhance public trust in the political process.”
But the bill’s sponsors, meanwhile, assailed Murphy for the conditional veto, saying they are “flabbergasted by the explanation presented."
“The governor says that this bill ‘falls short’ of the goal to bring greater transparency to our political process. That is a gross misrepresentation of months, and frankly, years of hard work," state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Somerset, said in a statement.
“While we are pleased we were able to draw attention to this important issue, and elevated the conversation about the need for true reform in this area, the Governor’s actions today are, ironically, an example of politics at its worst,” they added.
The bill passed the state Senate 33-0 and the state Assembly 66-2 in March.