Campaign finance reform bill would double donor limits

A Senate panel on Thursday proposed a measure to revamp the state’s campaign finance system by doubling most contribution limits and requiring more regular reporting, despite objections from supporters of the vote.

The Senate Committee on State and Local Governments unanimously approved The law projectwhich is sponsored by Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), though some members have echoed advocates’ concerns about increased donor limits , many of which have remained stable since 2005.

Senator Shirley Turner has expressed concern that the changes will further reduce the influence of small donors.

“I think there is too much money in the campaigns as they are. That means we’re going to have more negative money to spend on a campaign, and that’s not really getting to the bottom of the matter — and that’s that individual contributors will be closed in terms of campaigns,” Turner said. (D-Mercer).

Turner, who said she supports the stricter disclosure rules for independent spending groups that the bill would implement, voted to move the bill forward, but she said she might shy away from it. oppose it if it was a vote in the Senate.

The bill somewhat resembles a proposal made by Scutari before rising through the Senate leadership ranks, albeit more constrained. His previous proposal would have removed all contribution limits and required that all donations over $200 be reported within 72 hours.

Contribution ceilings

The measure would increase the amount of money that individuals, corporations, unions, associations and similar groups can donate to candidates from $2,600 to $5,200 per election cycle. Limits on contributions to candidates in the standing political, political and candidate committees would also double to $14,400 per cycle.

Primary and general elections are considered separate cycles for campaign contribution purposes under New Jersey law, so a donor could give $5,200 to a primary candidate and then another $5,200 to the general election campaign of that candidate.

The bill would allow legislative leadership PACs and state parties to donate up to $50,000 a year, while county parties could donate up to $74,000 a year.

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey, represented at Thursday’s hearing by Sandra Matsen, opposes the bill.

“There’s nothing strategic or targeted with these changes, and the league maintains there’s more than enough money in the system now,” Matsen said.

The measure would also require the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to adjust contribution limits to all types of candidates annually. The existing law only indexes contribution limits for gubernatorial candidates.

Jeff Brindle, Director of ELEC, supports these changes. The increases would update state contribution limits to account for 18 years of inflation, he said, noting that total campaign costs — including advertising rates — jumped about 80% since 2005.

“With the current high rate of inflation, the way they increased the contribution limits seems to be right on target,” he told the New Jersey Monitor.

outside money

Raising the limits may also help the state achieve the Election Law Enforcement Commission’s long-standing goal of reducing the influence of independent spending groups that are not subject to contribution or contribution limits. disclosure imposed on candidates and parties.

Spending by these groups has increased in the 12 years since a US Supreme Court ruling allowed certain independent spending groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts to influence campaigns.

As spending by these groups skyrocketed, less money went to political parties in the state. Unlike super PACs, social welfare nonprofits, and other independent spending groups, party organizations are subject to strict campaign finance disclosure requirements.

The bill would exempt contributions made to political parties and legislative leadership committees from the list of those that could prevent a company from winning government contracts. Matsen said she fears the change will undermine New Jersey’s gambling compensation laws and render them “almost meaningless.”

Continuous reports and shining light on black money

Changes to the bill Thursday would require candidates and their committees to report contributions of $2,000 or more within 96 hours of receiving them. The bill contains similar ongoing reporting provisions for political parties.

Under current legislation, most contributions are only reported quarterly. The exception comes during the last 13 days of an election, when all candidates and committees must report within 48 hours their donations from sources that donated more than $1,900 in total.

The bill would also reduce reporting thresholds for contributions and expenditures made to or by independent spending groups, sometimes called hidden money groups. The bill would require them to report donations and expenses over $1,000, down from $10,000 and $3,000, respectively.

Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic) questioned whether the changes would do much to limit the role outside groups play in modern elections, but said the system would work best “when everyone knows where every dollar”.

“They’re going to find ways around every financial reform you do, so I think transparency is key,” Polistina said.

other actions

On Thursday, the committee also advanced a series of bipartisan voting reform bills championed by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), including one that would allow election officials to start counting ballots. by post before polling day.

In a victory for voting advocates, the committee amended the bill, removing provisions that would have reduced New Jersey’s six-day grace period for late mail-in ballots to four days.

Despite objections from the state’s NAACP and more than a dozen black leaders and other advocates, lawmakers also approved a bill partially reversing a recent law that barred police officers from entering the offices of vote.

The bill would require police to be stationed at polling places at the request of public schools and seniors’ residences serving as polling places, a provision that advocates said feared would intimidate voters, especially given another recent law that extended suffrage to those on parole or probation. .