Murphy Called This Bill Unconstitutional. Now He’ll Sign It
Legislation requiring ‘dark money’ independent political groups to disclose their donors and spending that Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed last month is going to become law anyway.
The Legislature didn’t override Murphy’s veto, though there’s probably now an unofficial asterisk by the notion that a veto hasn’t been overridden in New Jersey since 1997. The Senate and Assembly voted – by a combined 103-0, with four abstentions – to resend Murphy the same legislation, now called S150, that he vetoed last month.
This time it will get Murphy’s signature, even though he has suggested it is unconstitutional.
“The exact same bill, word for word. Not one word has changed here,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “If the governor has concerns about cleanup, we can talk cleanup. But it has nothing to do with what we did here today. We could have easily overridden in both houses.”
The governor does want follow-up legislation, spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro indicated.
“The governor looks forward to signing the legislation while working with the Legislature to resolve outstanding issues by the end of the month,” Alfaro said.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said he’s willing to discuss future changes.
“Whenever we do a bill, particularly a bill as big and as important, it’s not uncommon to have to go and look at changes that may need to be added or amended,” Coughlin said.
“The notion of transparency with regard to money in the political process is something that we all ought to work to achieve, right? That’s something that we all ought to be proud of having accomplished,” said Coughlin. “… Sometimes the process is a little messy. But when it gets to the right result, then it gets to the right result.”
The ACLU of New Jersey said the bill invites a legal challenge if it’s signed into law, saying it would jeopardize privacy, free association and free speech rights of donors to both liberal and conservative causes.
“The Constitution is clear: the government cannot target organizations simply for uniting the voices of like-minded people to make a difference on issues of public concern,” said ACLU-NJ executive director Amol Sinha. “The ACLU-NJ is prepared to challenge this threat to our fundamental rights.”
The bill in some ways targets a pro-Murphy group, New Direction New Jersey, though was changed along the way so that it applies going forward, not backward.
Sweeney said New Direction NJ appears legal, but he questions its independence given that the organization is coordinating commercials with Murphy.
“That doesn’t sound to be independent to me. That sounds like you’re controlling a super PAC,” Sweeney said. “You know, there’s loopholes in every law, and it looks like the administration or this super PAC is exploiting that loophole to the maximum. I don’t think it’s wise, but the governor has every right to do what he feels is right.”
The bill also increases limits on contributions to political parties and candidates.
The amount that can be contributed to a candidate goes from $2,600 to $3,000; from $8,200 to $9,300 for political committees; from $25,000 to $28,000 to state political parties and legislative leadership committees from individuals and most groups; from $37,000 to $42,000 for county political parties; and from $7,200 to $8,200 for donations to municipal political parties.