TRENTON – State lawmakers have taken a first step toward blocking the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league from ever holding another event in New Jersey, as it did this July at former President Donald Trump’s club in Bedminster.

The renegade golf league that is upending the long-dominant PGA Tour has been criticized as "sportswashing" – allowing wealthy Saudi Arabia, through its Public Investment Fund, to try to improve its shoddy reputation when it comes to human rights.

Sen. Andrew Zwicker, D-Middlesex, said the bill (S3032) endorsed last week by a Senate committee is narrowly written with the LIV Golf tour in mind, though the target isn’t directly named in the legislation.

“It is tailored to go specifically after one particular golf tournament that is sponsored by one particular country with an abhorrent human rights record,” Zwicker said.

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Under the bill, any place in the state that hosts a sports event funded through a sovereign wealth fund – such as Saudi Arabia’s – would have their operating licenses and permits suspended for one to four months.

9/11 victims inspire bill

Zwicker said Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be allowed to launder its reputation by hosting sports events and owning sports teams. He said he has received communications from people whose loved ones were killed on 9/11 thanking him for the bill.

“No one would have believed that after that terrible day that we would be allowing foreign governments to hold events in New Jersey in an attempt to clean up their image after centuries of human rights abuses and connections to terrorists," said Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex.

“This government is using this tournament to try to increase their reputation around the world," Zwicker said, "when at the same time whether it comes to 9/11 and the thousands of Americans that lost their lives during that brutal attack, beheading of a journalist, and overall, across the world people, human rights organizations condemning their record."

Republicans are skeptical

Dozens of countries and 10 U.S. states have sovereign wealth funds. For that reason, Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, said the bill could be pretty far-reaching in not explicitly stating its goal.

“Why not just say you don’t want Donald Trump to be able to hold a golf tournament at his golf course in New Jersey?” Polistina said.

The bill was approved by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee in a 3-2 vote along party lines, with the Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

“Only a couple of weeks back that I see our president fist-bumping the prince … and dealing with him on an international level,” said Sen. James Holzapfel, R-Ocean. “I think that maybe the resolution should be or the bill should be directed to President Biden not to be involved with Saudi Arabia. I don’t know that this is really much a cure for the problems that we’re talking about.”

Biden fist-bumped with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in July and was criticized for it.

Zwicker said there’s more than one way to try to affect change.

“The idea that we have both carrots and sticks as a way to get progress I think is the right way to approach this,” he said.

The bill would need approval by the full Senate and action in the Assembly before it could reach Gov. Phil Murphy's desk.

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