Legislative Democrats today are calling on the founders of One New Jersey, a 501 (c) (4) launched Monday by a group of Democratic operatives, to open their books and reveal the contributors behind the organization.
On Monday a spokesman for One New Jersey, which says its mission is to serve as a watchdog over public officials and call them out when they harm New Jersey families, said the group will not disclose its backers, saying the law does not require transparency.
But several Democrats who last year demanded that a conservative group with a similar mission disclose its funders said One New Jersey must abide by the same concept..
“I think we have to be consistent. I’ve consistently been negative on the idea of 501 (C)(4)s not revealing their contributors ever since 2007 when I was attacked by one of these groups,” said state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) of Plainsboro. “I think it’s important that they not try to circumvent campaign finance laws and that they say where their funding comes from so we know a little bit about the group.”
Last year, Greenstein was a sponsor of a bill that would require so-called “shadow PACS” to disclose their donors. That legislation, along with a similar measure introduced in the Senate, was a response to Reform Jersey Now, a conservative 501 (C)(4) formed to advocate for Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed 2.5 percent tax levy cap.
That group, which counted two former Republican governors among its board members, said from the beginning it would disclose its donors and finally released the list in December.
Democrats, which included Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and state Democratic Committee Chairman Assemblyman John Wisniewski, condemned Reform Jersey Now and another GOP PAC, Center for a Better New Jersey, for their lack of transparency and called on the groups to immediately disclose their backers.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck, compared the two groups to Frankenstein and his bride and called on both organizations to disclose their donors and disband.
“The Center for a Better New Jersey and Reform New Jersey share the same political DNA, they were created to allow private political contributions to circumvent state pay to play laws,” she said at a February press conference.
Several legislators spoken to Tuesday stood by those earlier calls for disclosure while saying they support a progressive watchdog.
“All of my colleagues in the Legislature on both sides of the aisle have to disclose who our donors are and how we spend money and I think if you’re raising and spending money to influence public policy there ought to be disclosure,” said Wisniewski.
But privately, some Democrats seethed over the hypocrisy of the “we won’t disclose” statements made by Joshua Henne, one of the founders of the group.
“Just because they call themselves progressive doesn’t mean they speak for the party,” said one Democratic legislative source. “We can’t call for transparency when it’s (Republicans) and then do something different when it’s us. That’s hypocrisy. If you believe in transparency for the Swift Boat people and Reform Jersey Now, then you have to believe in it for One New Jersey.”
That source said the group could wind up embarrassing state Democrats if the agenda is too transparent.
One New Jersey was founded by a group of Democratic strategists that includes Henne of White Horse Partners and Steve DeMicco and Brad Lawrence of Message and Media. Buono is a client of both firms and was quoted in a media report saying she believes One New Jersey’s mission to be far different from that of Reform Jersey Now and accusing the conservative group of circumventing the state’s pay to play laws. But despite that belief, the majority leader said transparency is key.
“I believe the proliferation of these 501 (C)s is of great concern and should be of great concern to everyone,” Buono said. “I think the donors should be disclosed and it should make no difference whether there are Republicans or Democrats.”
The group said in a statement released Monday that it will hold elected officials accountable for actions that they believe favor Wall Street over Main Street or work against the best interests of New Jersey families.
“Far too many elected officials – such as Governor Christie – remain obsessed with giving tax breaks to multimillionaires and hand-outs to casino executives, lobbyists and mall developers,” Henne said in the statement. “Now more than ever, we must stand united in moving New Jersey forward and against those who stand in the way of progress.”