The state’s top Republican today accused Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) of trying to derail the formation of a national sex offender registry while working as a lobbyist fourteen years ago, but one of the freshman congressman’s former co-workers strongly disputed the claim.
In the harshest attack so far in what may be New Jersey’s most competitive congressional race, GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt charged that Malinowski lobbied against a section of a 2006 crime bill that forced sex offenders to register as part of a national database while working at Human Rights Watch.
“Tom Malinowski’s roots are rotten, and his values are hollow,” Steinhardt said. “That he was bought and paid for to lobby against protecting children from sex offenders is emblematic of his self-serving nature.”
Human Rights Watch opposed the legislation, suggesting that while sex offender registration was warranted, there was “no legitimate community safety justification for the provisions in this legislation that require offenders to register for the rest of their lives, regardless of whether they have lived offense free for decades.”
But the Human Rights Watch attorney who signed a statement urging Congress to reject the bill said that Malinowski had no part of it.
“He was not involved in this issue at all,” said Jennifer Daskal, who was the advocacy director for the group’s U.S. Program. “He was working on foreign policy issues.”
Daskal, who later served as Assistant U.S. Attorney General for National Security in the Obama administration and is now a law professor at American University, said that Malinowski did not attend any meetings on the topic and not involved in any discussions involving the stance Human Rights Watch would take on the bill now known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
“It was a long time ago, but I have no recollection of him being involved,” Daskal told the New Jersey Globe.
Steinhardt rejected assertions that Malinowski should not be held accountable for every position taken by an organization he worked for.
“There is no possible good explanation for his lobbying record, therefore it isn’t even worth demanding one,” said Steinhardt. “Tom Malinowski makes me sick.”
Malinowski had worked for the U.S. Department of State in the 1990s and later joined the Clinton White House staff as a senior director of the National Security Council. He later spent twelve years at Human Rights Watch before President Barack Obama nominated him to serve as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in 2013.
Republicans sought to tie Malinowski to issues related to Human Rights Watch when he challenged incumbent Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) in 2018.
In that race, Steinhardt sought to tie Malinowski to another colleague who was suspended in 2009 for collecting Nazi memorabilia. That individual, Marc Garlasco, worked in the New York office while Malinowski was in Washington.
Lance labeled Malinowski as anti-Israel for Human Rights Watch’s opposition of the construction of settlements in the West Bank and for Gaza to continue receiving U.S. military aide.
Malinowski shot back that Lance’s effort to make Israel into a campaign issue could damage its relationship with the United States.
A super PAC tied to then-House Speaker Paul Ryan aired TV ads in 2018 alleging that Malinowski lobbied for the rights of terrorists.
Malinowski and Human Rights Watch lobbied for access to courts and Habeus Corpus rights for detainees in Guantanamo Bay between 2006 and 2008.
While the Malinowski campaign pointed to his backing the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, a bill outlawing the use of torture that was authored by U.S. Sen. John McCain, the ad does not directly refer to the bill, and it cites lobbying disclosures dated to 2007, after the bill had already passed.
McCain’s former chief of staff, Mark Salter, defended Malinowski on Twitter.
“Tom worked with Republicans and Democrats who believed American ideals are worth protecting in war and peace,” Salter said. “That’s a reason to vote for him not against him.”
While there is no evidence that Malinowski personally supported or opposed the 2006 legislation – his name appears on a lobbying report filed by Human Rights Watch, something Daskal said was routine — it’s possible that his opponent in the hugely competitive 7th district race, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr., will the issue to attack the incumbent.
“As far as an ad writer is concerned, everything is fair game,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “But there were several problems with the national registry, including state approaches like New Jersey, were tougher and more comprehensive.”
Rasmussen said that when he teaches his students about federalism, he looks at how conservative state legislatures like Arizona opposed the federal registry.
“Could Malinowski suffer a negative mailer about it? Absolutely,” he said. “But it is certainly not going to be a defining issue in an election that’s going to overwhelmingly be about the top of the ticket.”