Republican issue group Reform Jersey Now should be required to provide a full list of donors to the organization, Assembly Representatives Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) said Wednesday morning.
The pair of legislators said they hope to introduce legislation to amend the states campaign finance rules to require transparency on the part of 501 (c) (4) groups, which currently are not required to report donations.
Reform Jersey Now was formed earlier this year and is stacked with GOP luminaries, including three former governors and close advisors to Gov. Chris Christie. The group has run radio ads, operated robo-calls and sent mailers, all in support of Christie’s proposed 2.5 percent cap on property tax increases.
According to Wisniewski, transparency should be required to ensure the group adheres to the spirit of the state’s pay to play laws that restrict donations from state contractors.
“I think the problem you have here is we don’t know and under the law they are operating under, can’t know, who is funding them, so you have a real issue of pay to play,” he said. “When you see the alumni list of who is involved with this organization it is clear that this is a Republican organization.”
The assemblyman, who is also the state Democratic Committee chairman, pointed to increased funding for halfway houses in this year’s otherwise austere budget. Reform Jersey Now Board Member and Christie confidant William Palatucci is the general counsel for Community Education Centers Inc., the largest operator of halfway houses and other community treatment centers for former inmates in the state.
Asked to respond to the Wisniewski’s allegation, Palatucci said the bill that required the addiitonal funding was passed last year, under then Gov. Jon Corzine. That bill requires treatment centers to maintain 100 percent occupancy in beds under contract up from 95 percent.
“In addition, the contracts are awarded via the public bidding process and so the Governor has no involvement in their award,” Palatucci said.
Wisniewski also said that the organization is acting to sway laegislator opinion, but has not registered as a lobbyist.
“They are lobbying legislators as a group and they are not registered, so it is essentially illegal lobbying,” Wisniewski said. “They are advocating a specific outcome on a specific piece of legislation.”
Asked how the legislation would distinguish between more established advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club, the lawmakers said it would likely be based on their formation date. The point, they said is to combat groups that come into being to advocate for one issue and then fade away.
In 2007, Greenstein was the subject of attack ads from a group supporting the ban on gay marriage. The group flooded money into the campaign, which was being run under the state’s “clean elections” pilot program that provided state funding for campaigns. As a result, Greenstein was awarded “rescue money” in the form of additional state funding to help combat the attacks. Greenstein eventually won the election.
The lawmakers said the group they are focusing on now, Reform Jersey Now, is clearly associated with Christie, calling into question his pledge to run a more transparent administration.
A spokesman for Christie dismissed the criticism of the administration and its transparency.
I’m not going to respond to the issues surrounding that organization but it’s laughable that Assemblyman Wisniewski would suggest that this administration compared to any prior administration lacks transparency in its government operations,” said spokesman Michael Drewniak. “He can politic all he wants, but that is demonstrably laughable.”
A spokesman for Reform Jersey Now did not immediately return a call for comment.