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Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes. (Photo: Office of the County Executive).

Hughes hits Benson for vote on controversial elections bill

Mercer Executive says ‘Elections Transparency Act’ would be disastrous for N.J.

By Joey Fox, January 18 2023 2:25 pm

In an email sent to Mercer Democratic county committee members today, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes attacked his Democratic primary challenger, Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton), for supporting a bill in the Assembly that would loosen New Jersey’s pay-to-play laws and increase campaign contribution limits, among other provisions.

“This legislation takes us back to the olden days where big money controls county and local government and corruption abounds,” Hughes said in the email. “Worse yet? Assemblyman Benson’s plan would put an end to any local or county initiative, including our own strong county pay-to-play law, that already exceeds the proposed law Benson supports.”

Benson voted for the Elections Transparency Act, as the bill is named, when it passed the Assembly Budget Committee unanimously last June; it has yet to come for a full vote in either chamber. If enacted, the bill would sunset local laws restricting contracts with entities who have made campaign contributions, double existing contribution limits, and require outside committees to report contributions over $7,500 as well as all expenditures.

Alongside his attack on Benson, Hughes proposed a number of changes to Mercer County’s own election and ethics laws, such as requiring candidates to disclose campaign contributions of more than $25 and strengthening transparency laws regarding county officeholders and their families.

“As a proud Democrat, I take pride in being independent-minded and building a strong successful party,” he said. “But our success is tied to the good government we have consistently delivered. We must protect the reforms we have already put in place and strengthen them where we can.”

In a statement responding to Hughes’ email, Benson campaign chairwoman Jeannine Frisby LaRue broadly defended Benson’s record without directly mentioning the assemblyman’s vote on the Elections Transparency Act.

“Assemblyman Benson has been a driving force for positive change and good government throughout his career,” LaRue said. “It’s no surprise to see entrenched interests that profit from the Hughes administration attack him like this. They are clearly worried that Assemblyman Benson is going to win office and stop the gravy train of prioritizing transactional politics over good government, and they’re right.”

Hughes’ attack is something of an opening salvo in a primary contest that’s sure to only get more intense over the next few months.

Benson launched his campaign a month ago, and has since garnered the endorsements of a wide array of Mercer County Democrats. But Hughes, who is currently finishing his fifth term in office, has a formidable endorsement list of his own, and both he and Benson have pledged to see the contest through to the June primary regardless of what happens at the county convention.

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