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Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Murphy signs dark money bill

Cleanup bill to be heard in committee tomorrow

By Nikita Biryukov, June 17 2019 9:35 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a bill on Monday that would create disclosure requirements for certain dark money groups.

The bill amends The New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act, forcing certain groups, like 501(c)(4)s to disclose the identities of donors who give more than $10,000 and to report expenditures in excess of $3,000.

“This law will make significant progress in delivering reforms that will lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds the activities of groups working to influence the political process,” State Sen. Troy Singleton, the bill’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber, said. “These dark money groups with benign sounding names have been operating in the shadows, spending large sums of money from undisclosed sources to influence the legislative, regulatory and election processes.”

The bill was the center of a large amount of political jockeying.

Murphy conditionally vetoed the bill only to sign into law an identical version when faced with the first veto override in more than two decades.

In a statement accompanying Murphy’s announcement of the signing — that announcement was bundled along with announcements for three other bills — Murphy reiterated that he was signing a bill he previously called unconstitutional because legislative leaders and the bill’s sponsors had agreed to issue a cleanup bill.

That measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, who was the dark money bill’s chief sponsor in the legislature’s lower chamber, is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

“I am therefore signing this bill based on an express commitment from my colleagues in the Legislature, including legislative leadership and the bill’s prime sponsors, to introduce and swiftly pass legislation removing advocacy in connection with legislation and regulations from its parameters, thereby ensuring that the bill’s disclosure requirements apply to election-related advocacy, and making previously recommended technical revisions in order to ensure its consistent application,” Murphy said in his statement.

Advocacy groups, including the New Jersey branch of the ACLU, raised alarms over the breadth of the dark money bill.

They feared the disclosure requirements could be used to target donors to groups whose work relates to sensitive issues, like abortion.

It’s not clear how the clean-up bill will affect disclosure by groups like New Direction New Jersey, the Murphy-aligned non-profit whose decision to renege on a promise to disclose its donors at the end of last year spurned action on the dark money bill.

That group has aired numerous ads pushing Murphy’s proposal for a millionaire’s tax, but those ads have seldom touched on election-related issues.

“At a time of increased misinformation and distrust it is more important than ever that the public is provided the information they need to make informed decisions on the policies that impact their lives,” Singleton said. “Full disclosure will improve the credibility of government and enhance the public’s trust.”

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