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Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Lawmakers to pass identical dark money bill

Unorthodox deal avoids veto override

By Nikita Biryukov, June 10 2019 2:43 pm

Lawmakers will pass an identical copy of the dark money bill Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed last month, and the governor will sign it.

The unorthodox path of the dark money bill will take provides Democratic lawmakers with an avenue to avoid voting to override a veto for the first time in more than 20 years.

But while Murphy has avoided an embarrassing override, the deal he’s reached with lawmakers is anything but a win.

“I think it was important that we stood up for ourselves. I think it was important that we send a message that we are to be taken seriously and the work that we do — the legislation that we do when it is good and it is right and when there’s seventy-some odd of us that voted in favor of it, it can’t be ignored,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin told members of his caucus in a closed-door meeting Monday. “I think we sent that message. I think we’ve gotten to place that everybody is happy with, or at least comfortable.”

A recording of the closed-door meeting was provided to the New Jersey Globe by a member of the Assembly majority caucus on the condition of anonymity.

In a press gaggle, Coughlin would not rule out making further changes to the bill after it was signed into law.

“Whenever we do a bill, particularly a bill as big and important as this, it’s not uncommon to have to go and then look at things that may need to be added or amended,” Coughlin said.

Sources have told the New Jersey Globe that a cleanup bill is part of the deal reached between Murphy and legislative leaders.

The bill will first have to go through the Senate before the Assembly votes on it.

Both chambers will need to introduce it via emergency.

That’s not expected to pose any problems, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly voted to pass the bill when it made its first pass through the legislature, and a source told the New Jersey Globe that the minority caucuses have signed on to provide the emergency.

Lawmakers don’t intend to take any action on the version of the bill Murphy conditionally vetoed. That bill will simply die.

But it’s possible that the bill will have an effect on the identical measure that Murphy is expected to sign.

In his conditional veto, Murphy called portions of the dark money bill unconstitutional.

It’s possible the bill’s opponents will use the governor’s words in legal challenges attempting to strike the bill down.

Though Murphy and legislative leaders all said they supported the measure, the bill stalled over an amendment targeting Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill, who works as a senior advisor to New Direction New Jersey, a 501(c)(4) aligned with Murphy that has recently aired ads backing his proposal for a millionaire’s tax.

The amendment, which is included in the version of the bill making its way through the legislature today, bars elected officials from sitting on the board of groups like New Direction, though it’s not clear whether the bill affects Gill.

“Sometimes the process is a little messy, but when it gets to the right result, it gets to the right result,” Coughlin told reporters.

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