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TRENTON – Due to the influx of federal dollars entering the state to clean up and repair areas destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, Senator Jim Whelan has sponsored legislation that would protect taxpayer dollars by ensuring greater transparency of lobbying efforts aimed at influencing local government activities. The bill was unanimously approved today by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.
The bill is in response to recent reports that AshBritt – a firm contracted by the Christie Administration for debris-removal post Sandy – has hired lobbyists and political consultants to win contracts with 43 local governments for storm cleanup.
“Hurricane Sandy left thousands of residents and towns across the state scrambling to clean up, repair and rebuild damaged property. In the hopes to return to a sense of normalcy, these repairs are happening quickly, but it is imperative that we do not allow this process to be controlled by those with the biggest pocket books and the most political connections,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, Chairman of the Committee. “Instead, clean up and rebuilding should be done by the most-qualified organizations who can effectively and efficiently use public and taxpayer funds.”
The bill, S-2585, would require that all government affairs agents who seek to influence a local measure, local regulation or local governmental process or who seek to provide a benefit to certain local officials, local governments and schools to follow the same disclosure and reporting requirements that government affairs agents must follow on a statewide level. Under the provisions of the legislation, local lobbyists would be required to file a notice of representation with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) prior to attempting to exercise influence on local government officials.
The bill would limit gifts from lobbyists to local elected officials, their employees or their immediate families of more than $250 annually.
Additionally the bill would limit the ability of a local elected official, local chief executive or the head of a local government department or agency to register as a governmental affairs agent in the municipality, county, authority or school district in which the person works or holds public office.
“On a statewide level, we have made great strides to cut down on questionable lobbying practices, but now that large corporations are making efforts to influence local government entities, we must strengthen the law to protect all taxpayers.” said Senator Whelan. “This legislation does not prohibit government affairs agents from making a case for why a certain position or firm is the best for the town, county or school, it just brings the process out from behind closed doors and into the light of public scrutiny.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
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