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.

The Back Room

Christie takes state helicopter to campaign in Connecticut

Gov. Chris Christie took the "upper level" -- helicoptering over the George Washington Bridge -- to beat rush hour traffic from his home state to a recent GOP fundraiser with Connecticut gubernatorial contender Tom Foley, according to a Hearst Media report.

Read More >

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: July 25th

  After 'briefly' meeting with Christie in Aspen, Astorino says he can live with not having Christie's help New York gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino's campaign described their candidate's fundraising trip to Aspen last night as a success - even if they will not be depending on the chairman...


NJ Legislature must get behind statewide standard of responsible contracting

By Michael Capelli As a 30 year union carpenter, I learned first-hand how important it was to have the right tools for the job. Now as the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the 30,000 men and women of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters I... Read More >


 The following letter was sent today to Republican state legislators, county chairs, state committee members, and New Hampshire... more »
(7-23-14) Rabner Opinion Keeps “Christie for President” Alive - Gov. Chris Christie’s fight to prevent same-sex marriage in New Jersey ended with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.... more »
The Perry-Paul Debate is Healthy for the GOP – and for America  The foreign policy debate in the media between prospective GOP Presidential candidates Texas Governor Rick Perry and... more »
(Washington DC)-- Two recent votes on Capitol Hill suggest an overdue and radical departure from our nation's Draconian and costly War on Drugs.  It's a long-overdue discussion (and not just... more »

Quote of the Day

quote of the day

"Gov. Chris Christie says he won’t campaign for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York because the cause is hopeless: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ahead by more than 30 points. But he will campaign in New Hampshire, over and over, where the Republican is also trailing by more than 30 points. What’s the reason? It may be that New Hampshire holds the nation’s first presidential primary. It may be that he doesn’t want to mess with Cuomo, who knows where the skeletons are buried at the Port Authority. But one thing is certain: Gov. Straight Talk is spinning again. And it seems to be habit-forming." - columnist Tom Moran

- Star-Ledger


Which contest are you most focused on this coming season?:


Visit the 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.