Home>Campaigns>Elections Transparency Act pulled from Senate schedule as other election bills pass

Senate President Nicholas P. Scutari at Gov. Phil Murphy's fiscal year 2023 budget address delivered on March 8, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Elections Transparency Act pulled from Senate schedule as other election bills pass

Campaign finance overhaul drew criticism from progressive groups

By Joey Fox, June 29 2022 8:35 pm

A major overhaul of New Jersey’s campaign finance laws, dubbed the “Elections Transparency Act,” was pulled from today’s Senate voting schedule at the last minute following blowback from progressive groups and unions; the bill had never been posted for a vote in the Assembly at all. A large set of other elections-related bills passed the Senate with little fanfare, however.

Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Linden), who along with Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) was the key driving force behind the transparency bill, said after today’s Senate session that he’s still working to make it a better piece of legislation.

“We’ve got to work on it a little bit,” he said. “It’s a complicated piece of legislation… I think we’ll get it passed, I think it’s a good piece of [legislation], but we want to do it carefully.”

If it were enacted, the bill would double existing campaign contribution limits, sunset local laws regulating contracts with entities that have made campaign contributions, and require outside groups to report contributions of more than $7,500 and all expenditures. This last provision is significantly amended from the original bill, which required reporting of any expenditures or contributions of more than $1,000.

Many progressive groups excoriated the bill when it came up for committee votes, saying that more money shouldn’t be injected into politics and that the existing pay-to-play laws are a critical safeguard against corruption.

“I can’t believe how terrible this bill is – it is so bad,” New Jersey Working Families Party State Director Sue Altman said in a Senate committee hearing on Monday. “Sunsetting pay-to-play provisions in New Jersey and drastically increasing the limits that companies can give to county party systems is a major, major problem.”

Still, whatever disagreement there may have been behind closed doors, it didn’t show up among legislators in committee. On Monday, the Assembly Budget Committee approved the bill unanimously and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee did so near-unanimously, with State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) abstaining.

While the transparency bill may have been pulled, the Senate did pass five bills from a major package of elections reform spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), most of which already passed the Assembly earlier this month, as well as a scattering of other election bills outside of the Speaker’s package. 

The bills would make significant changes to how the state reports votes, tighten up some laws related to absentee ballots and unaffiliated voters, and allow for more online voter services, among many other things.

One further bill allowing the counting of absentee and early ballots prior to Election Day succeeded on its second time around. When the bill first came up in May, it shockingly failed on the Senate floor due to a number of Democratic absences, and Scutari sent it back to committee for more amendments; after being edited to more specifically guarantee the security of pre-Election Day vote counts, the bill passed today 32-6. 

The Assembly version of the same bill hasn’t yet come up for a committee vote, though, so it likely won’t reach the governor’s desk in the near future.

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