A week after he signed the Elections Transparency Act with little notice or fanfare, Gov. Phil Murphy today defended his decision to support the controversial campaign finance bill, saying that it was far from perfect but that it represents an improvement over the status quo.
“I think this does a lot of good in terms of transparency, disclosure, and bringing money from outside to inside,” Murphy said following an unrelated press conference. “While it may not be perfect, overwhelmingly those objectives … are achieved by this bill. I think those are huge steps in the right direction.”
The new law, which tossed about in the state legislature for months before finally passing in late March, makes a number of key changes to New Jersey’s campaign finance regulations. It doubles most campaign contribution limits, creates reporting requirements for independent expenditures, standardizes and loosens state pay-to-play laws, and allows political parties to keep “housekeeping” fundraising accounts.
It also upends the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), the agency tasked with overseeing the state’s campaign finance laws, by instituting a two-year statute of limitations on enforcement decisions and giving the governor a 90-day period to name new ELEC commissioners without Senate approval.
These latter provisions, which were added relatively late in the process, drew substantial blowback from progressive groups, most Republican legislators, and a few Democratic legislators. But a small cohort of Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in support of the bill, giving it enough votes to pass.
In contrast to previous landmark pieces of legislation, Murphy signed the bill quietly, with no accompanying press conference or statement. The bill’s detractors took that as a signal that Murphy didn’t want to draw attention to his actions, but the governor was unabashed today in his support for the bill’s provisions increasing contribution limits and requiring more disclosure from outside groups.
“The system we inherited was absolutely, categorically imperfect,” he said. “We have a far more perfect system as a result of this bill, even if it may not be perfect.”
The bill’s most immediate effect will be reshaping ELEC’s governing body; all three incumbent ELEC commissioners resigned in protest shortly before Murphy signed the bill, and he now has the power to unilaterally choose their four replacements. Murphy said today that his appointments will be coming “sooner than later.”
“We’ve already begun the process,” he said. “We’ve got no news to make, but it’s going to be a very strong, bipartisan group of commissioners. I think when folks see the list of commissioners, you’re going to see the last of the stories that [we] put a bunch of [our] cronies on, because you’re going to see that’s not the case.”