Governor Murphy this week signed the Elections Transparency Act, expanding reporting requirements for recipients of political contributions – thus the name of the new law. But the Act does more than expand reporting requirements. It weakens pay-to-play restrictions and increases the amounts that individuals and corporations may contribute to candidates and political parties. The changes to the law contain both good news and bad news for public contractors and other corporate campaign contributors (and their counsel).
The good news is that the Act “sunsets” (nullifies) the annoying patchwork of county and municipal pay-to-play ordinances, obviating the need to research not only State pay-to-play law but also local pay-to-play ordinances before making a political contribution. State pay-to-play law will now supersede and thus nullify all local pay-to-play ordinances, including ordinances that prohibit redevelopers and their consultants from contributing to local politicians.
The bad news – or, from the politicians’ perspective, the additional good news – is that the Act raises contribution limits and expands the universe of political committees that can receive contributions from public contractors without triggering pay-to-play. Henceforth, politicians will be able to ask public contractors for larger contributions (“maxing out” will now require $5,200, no longer just $2,600), and public contractors will have fewer excuses for choosing not to contribute.
Statutory changes that will expand the parameters of permissible contributions include:
- The maximum yearly contribution to candidate committees by individuals and corporations will double from $2,600 to $5,200; the maximum yearly contribution to State political parties and legislative leadership committees will increase from $25,000 to $75,000; the maximum yearly contribution to county political parties will increase from $37,000 to $75,000; and the maximum yearly contribution to municipal political parties will increase from $7,200 to $14,400.
- Contributions to legislative leadership committees and to political parties (i.e., State, county, and municipal Democrats and Republicans) will no longer trigger the State’s pay-to-play statute. Thus, the principal loophole in the pay-to-play law – contributions to members of, and candidates for, the NJ Legislature – will expand to include contributions to legislative leadership committees and State, county, and municipal political parties; and
- The “fair and open process” exception to pay-to-play that applies to public bidding will now apply at the State as well as the local level, with “fair and open process” defined to include sealed bids. Thus, contractors that do sealed bid work for the State and do not do no-bid work for the State will no longer be barred by pay-to-play law from contributing to the Governor or Lieutenant-Governor.
The increases in the contribution limits will take effect after the primary election in June. The changes to the pay-to-play law take effect immediately.
One final note: For those who have preferred to stay “under the radar” by contributing $300 or less to candidate committees – because only contributions above $300 have been “reportable” – that figure will now be $200.