Less than a week after it passed the Assembly State and Local Government Committee, a bill extending New Jersey’s bribery laws to candidates for political office who don’t hold elected office unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today. The vote marks another victory for Assemblyman Greg McGuckin (R-Toms River), who began pushing for the bill in 2012, and State Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), who joined McGuckin as the bill’s Senate sponsor last year.
McGuckin first introduced the bill in response to the 2009 dismissal of bribery charges against former Assemblyman Louis Manzo (D-Jersey City), but it went nowhere several legislative sessions in a row, even after another highly similar Bayonne case was dismissed in 2019.
“Since the courts made those decisions [in Jersey City and Bayonne], it’s the legislature’s responsibility to define correctly what the statute would be so there is no question that attempted bribery is illegal,” Cryan said in a statement. “The law should be clear and definitive that public officials and those seeking public office will be punished for trying to sell out the integrity of government service.”
At the Judiciary Committee hearing, State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) raised concerns about the vagueness of the bill’s language, noting that normal campaign activities and contributions could be interpreted as bribery. A mayoral candidate who promises to redevelop a neighborhood and receives an unrelated campaign contribution from a major developer, for example, could potentially be caught under the bill’s provisions, Smith said.
“I can see a situation in the future where a prosecutor is going to have a real difficult time with [this bill],” Smith said. “I think the language needs to be sharpened up.”
But Smith nevertheless voted to move the bill out of committee, as did every other senator present; the bill will now move on to the full Senate in a future voting session.