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U.S. District Court Judge Brian R. Martinotti. (Photo: C-SPAN/NJ Globe).

Judge says regulated industries can make independent expenditures in state elections

By David Wildstein, June 22 2021 4:06 pm

A federal judge rule Monday that banks and other regulated industries – including utility companies – can make independent expenditures on behalf of gubernatorial and legislative candidates but stopped short of declaring a 1911 statute that bans campaign contributions unconstitutional.

The New Jersey Bankers Association had mounted a legal challenge to the law barring campaign contributions from banks, claiming it violated their First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti found the state law unconstitutionally bans independent expenditures.

Martinotti wrote that the court was assigning a narrowing meaning to the statute “by declaring the statute does not ban any entity from making independent expenditures.”

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal had argued that regulated industries were always permitted to make independent expenditures — something that came as news to the regulated industries.

But Martinotti stayed clear of permitting banks to make direct contributions.

“A ban that only … prohibits contributions made to officials who directly regulate or deal with banks, and … applies to entities from making contributions to obtain a government contract, would open the door for direct contributions made to state legislators, thereby creating quid pro quo corruption or its appearance,” Martinotti wrote.

The attorney general’s office, which defended the state law, declined to comment on whether it will appeal.

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