Before their April break, state lawmakers in Trenton, New Jersey, had a lot to do. They changed New Jersey’s campaign finance rules with a controversial bill that Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed into law without the usual press conference.
The “Elections Transparency Act,” which has an odd name, was strongly opposed by both the far left and far right in Jersey politics. This was for a good reason, as it is the opposite of good government and hurts the interests of New Jersey residents. It hurts Princeton students in specific ways and puts the bidding process for the Dinky at risk.
First, the bill gets rid of some restrictions on “pay-to-play” politics in New Jersey. Under the new law, companies that want to get contracts from the government are no longer banned from giving money to party committees, which pay for many elections in New Jersey.
So, the bill weakens the rules that were put in place to make sure that businesses get government contracts in a fair and competitive way.
Second, it doubles the contribution caps for most races. This means that people and businesses in the state can give twice as much to political candidates or groups. More importantly, it also changes how violations of campaign money laws are dealt with.
It does this by changing the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), which is New Jersey’s main body for making sure elections are fair and legal. Under the new law, the time limit for campaign finance violations drops from 10 years to just two years.
This is a much shorter time limit than most other states for state investigators to make a case against someone they think broke the law. Investigators often take more than two years to find campaign finance violations, so this short time frame lets people who broke the rules get away with it.
And the new law is not just bad because of what it says. Its most controversial parts were discussed behind closed doors as amendments, so the public didn’t know what was going on. Its full contents weren’t made public until after the governor signed it.
And it gets worse. This new law helps Governor Phi Murphy in three complaints that were made with the ELEC earlier this year against New Jersey groups with ties to the Democratic Party.
These groups have ties to the governor and his political allies, but now that this new law has passed, the time limit on the three charges has passed. Governor Murphy stopped these inquiries with a stroke of his pen.
Also, the so-called “Elections Transparency Act” removes the requirement that the governor get approval from the New Jersey Senate before selecting members of the ELEC’s board. This makes the board a new inside game.
After the bill passed, the three ELEC members quit in protest, leaving the governor free to choose his own investigators. With the passing of this new law, the accusations against Governor Murphy were taken away, and he now has the power to choose the people who will look into him. How does this make sense?
The new rule is bad because it lets politicians do things without being held accountable. As we work to make our country more fair, campaign finance regulations make sure that political power isn’t held by just a few people who have enough money to move the government.
But the law also hurts specific people in New Jersey, including Princeton students, in ways that go beyond broad moral arguments against it. Trenton affects many parts of our lives at Princeton, from rules about the environment to rules about public safety.
The Princeton Branch of NJTransit, called the Dinky, is an example of how the state government affects student life. The “Prince” said that NJTransit is about to start a multi-year project to improve the Dinky.
As a public company owned by the state, NJTransit has to answer to Governor Murphy. Getting rid of the rules against pay-to-play means that if a contractor gives enough money to Murphy’s campaign, the bids for the Dinky repair contract could be tipped in their favor.
Since the Dinky project could be worth tens of millions of dollars, the lack of pay-to-play rules encourages companies to boost their chances of getting it by giving money to campaigns. This takes away the need to fix the Dinky in a way that works well, which hurts the quality of transportation for Princeton students.
This bill is a step in the wrong way for New Jersey. Strong campaign finance rules make sure that the government is strong and that policies work. This new law makes it more likely that the government will do a bad job.
As the governor of New Jersey and a member of Princeton’s Board of Trustees by right, Governor Murphy should be held to a high level of responsibility. Officials in Princeton are watching as people in Trenton, like Governor Murphy, change the laws to help their own goals instead of the state of New Jersey’s.
Some people say that Governor Murphy wants to move into the White House, but the people of New Jersey and the students at Princeton deserve better from their leaders.