By Editor | March 27th, 2014 - 3:07pm
| More

BY JEFF BRINDLE In early April, the Commission will release its annual pay-to-play report.

Last year’s report, covering public contractor activity in 2012, revealed that donations had dropped by 23 percent from the previous year.

The report showed that public contractors made $7.6 million in political contributions.  It noted that they received $5.7 billion in public work, an increase of seven percent over 2011.

In general both donations and public contract dollars have declined since 2006, when the law went into effect.

My guess is that because of the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, this year’s report probably will show public contracts increasing.

Donations by public contractors to candidates and political parties, however, may continue to decline.

Undoubtedly, well meaning reformers will welcome the news.  Less money to candidates and political parties is a good thing, right?

Maybe.  But there is another side to that story.  There is no less money going into the electoral process.  It is merely being redirected.

And where is it going?  It’s going to independent groups, which spent $42 million during the recent gubernatorial and legislative elections, and to party-affiliated PACs.

Neither group is subject to pay-to-play.  Moreover, independent, outside groups often operate in secrecy.  So the public is unaware of who is contributing to them and how much they are spending to influence the election.

In a word, the current pay-to-play law, though well intended, has resulted in less transparency.

What’s worse, the law is self defeating.  Rather than making it easier to connect the dots between contributions and contracts it has made it harder. 

The problem with the pay-to-play law is that it is too complicated.  There is the state law and there are about 176 local ordinances. 

In some instances, the state law applies not only to state contracting but also to county and municipal contracting.  But even when local governments remain subject to state law by not adopting their own ordinance, they can still escape it by invoking the fair and open provision. 

Fair and open allows local governments to evade the pay-to-play law by simply advertising the bidding process. 

In addition there are several executive orders that further serve to complicate the law. 

The complexity of the law has resulted in contractors either discontinuing their participation in the electoral process altogether or more likely going outside of the system and donating to PACs and/or unregulated independent groups.

So what can be done?  The pay-to-play law should be simplified and strengthened.

The Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) has proposed commonsense reforms that if enacted would accomplish these twin goals.

ELEC has proposed one state law to apply across the board, meaning that the pay-to-play law would encompass both the state and local levels of government.  The reforms would eliminate the fair and open loophole and require all contracts of $17,500 to be disclosed. 

Finally, the recommendation calls for the contribution limit to be raised for public contractors from $300 to $1,000.  This limit would not even be half of the current $2,600 limit applying to individuals. 

These reforms would make the law understandable, strengthen disclosure, end an egregious loophole, and help to offset the influence of outside groups by redirecting money back to candidates and parties. 

Governor Christie has endorsed the concept of one state pay-to-play law, as have Senators James Beach (D-6) and Linda Greenstein (D-14).  The Senators have introduced legislation that includes many of the provisions included in ELEC’s pay-to-play proposal. 

It is time for solid pay-to-play reform to move forward so that the public can better follow the flow of money in order to judge the relationship between contributions and contracts.  Moreover, it’s time for reforms that will help stem the tide of money flowing to independent groups and redirect it back to candidates and parties.

Jeff Brindle is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.  The opinions presented here are his own and not necessarily those of the Commission.

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: August 29th

Belmar mayor's race: a wave of post-Sandy project politics stirs up seaside Monmouth borough BELMAR - When Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty rolled out his re-election campaign in February, he did so still basking in the glow of what many residents of the 6,000-person Monmouth County seaside borough saw...

Op-Ed

White House’s Tuition Challenge Being Met in NJ

By MICHAEL W. KLEIN In his weekly radio address on August 16, President Obama challenged colleges “to do their part to bring down costs” and lighten the tuition burden on students.  The state colleges and universities in New Jersey have... Read More >

Contributors

My Republican Hillary Clinton Experience    There is a veritable plethora of reportage in print, internet, television and radio media speculating as to whether Hillary Clinton will seek the Democratic... more »
(8-27-14) All Americans Should Support Gov. Perry - Political prosecutions have no place in American life. Those who use the justice system as they are using it in Texas... more »
(Asbury Park, NJ) -- There's a word for someone who says one thing and does another: hypocrite.  There's no shortage of 'em in Trenton -- from ... more »
 The following letter was sent today to Republican state legislators, county chairs, state committee members, and New Hampshire... more »

Quote of the Day

quote of the day

"Christie’s method for coping with scandal has been more complicated. In January, the seemingly-local issue of lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, which created a massive traffic jam in the Hudson River town of Fort Lee, became one of national interest when it was revealed that one of Christie’s closest staffers had ordered them—for what looked like political retribution against a Democratic mayor. The scandal was quickly dubbed 'Bridgegate,' and unfortunately for Christie, it played into his reputation as a bully. Christie's response was to act unlike himself: humble." - Olivia Nuzzi

- The Daily Beast

Poll

Who is a better field general for his party as both try to win governor's races around the country?:

Blogroll

Visit the PolitickerNJ.com/resources page for links to the best collection of information on New Jersey state government.

 

  • Polls
  • The best blogs
  • Columnists
  • State election results
  • Assembly election results
  • Local party websites
  • And more.

PolitickerNJ.com/resources