Weinberg reaches out to Christie on pay to play

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D- Bergen) reached out a hand to Gov. Chris Christie Monday offering to work with the governor who made his name on corruption busting on bi-partisan ethics reform.

Weinberg was responding to comments from Christie-spokesman Drewniak about a campaign finance reform bill she proposed last week.

“In media accounts following the announcement, your press secretary, Michael Drewniak, suggested that while you were encouraged by my leadership on ethics reform, you may be more interested in legislation which would require lawmakers to disclose more detailed financial information to the public,” Weinberg said in her letter to Christie. “I see no reason why we can’t have both.”

Last week, Weinberg proposed legislation that would tighten the existing pay to play law in effect at the state level while also outlawing wheeling, the practice of donating to one party organization, which immediately sends the donation on to another party organization.

Under her bill, which has the endorsement of campaign finance reform group Citizens’ Campaign, county political organizations would not be able to donate to other county organizations or municipalities outside of their county.

The bill also would limit the amount of contributions local political organizations can make to the state political parties to an aggregate of $25,000 per year.

Most importantly, the bill would prohibit campaign contributors from making any contribution to a political organization which donates to one that they would otherwise be prohibited from donating to under pay-to-play restrictions.

The measures are similar to a proposal made the by the governor in September, which had provisions for restrictions on wheeling, awarding of contracts and donations from organized labor.

In a statement made after Weinberg’s press conference announcing her intent to pursue the legislation, Drewniak welcomed her help, but said the senator and her colleagues should go farther.

“Now if only she could get her colleagues in the legislature on board for things like legislative financial disclosure and more that would be terrific,” he said at the time.

In her letter, Weinberg said she’d be glad to take up that charge.

“I am more than happy to work with you to revive legislation which would require greater financial disclosure from lawmakers. As a co-sponsor of bipartisan measures which would greatly enhance legislative financial disclosure, I recognize that such openness will go a long way to root out conflicts of interest which have, in the past, undermined the good work of the legislative branch.

But in offering her help, Weinberg took a not-so-veiled shot at the governor’s association with an advocacy group that has been a thorn in the side of Democrats since its inception.

The group, known as Reform Jersey Now, is a non-profit that is not required to disclose its donor list.  The group has been advocating for Christie-reforms, including the so-called “tool-kit” tax reform measures. Last week, the group, which counts several prominent Republicans as members and directors, sent glossy mailers to homes in three legislative districts urging taxpayers to push their Democratic lawmakers to vote for the tool kit.

In her letter, Weinberg said any ethics reform should include disclosure requirements for groups like Reform Jersey Now.

“As such, I hope you will support legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and myself which would require donor disclosure from issue advocacy groups – including your own group, Reform Jersey Now – which are currently exempt from the same disclosure requirements imposed on candidates, political action committees, and legislative leadership accounts,” she said. “The public has a right to know who is donating to campaigns in order to sway the election of leaders and the direction of the State.”

Last week, Christie teamed up with Democratic legislative leaders on arbitration reform, which he described as a “compromise” that all sides could agree on.  In her letter, Weinberg asked the governor for similar bi-partisan effort.

“I look forward to working with you to promote bipartisan ethics reform in the Garden State,” she said.

Pay to play legislation passed during the tenure of Gov. Jim McGreevey has long considered by advocates to be weak and riddled with loopholes.  The law, on the books since 2004, does nothing to restrict wheeling and opponents say does little to restrict campaign contributors from receiving no-bid contracts from the state.

The governor’s office had no immediate comment on Weinberg’s proposal. Weinberg reaches out to Christie on pay to play