The Election Law Enforcement Commission today released a list of its highest priority recommendations for establishing greater oversight over campaign finance in the state.
The list of eight “priority recommendations” includes a combination of new rules, expansion of existing rules and the closure of loopholes in existing state campaign finance law. The list was included as part of the agency’s annual report.
Among the recommendations from ELEC is a policy that would specifically require a candidate to itemize information about dinners and other events including an attendance list and an explanation of why the event is considered “ordinary and customary” and should be paid for by the campaign.
While the recommendation makes no mention of him, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo has been embroiled in a complaint for two years stemming from his failure to itemize his campaign spending and his proclivity to charge thousands in dinners and other meetings to his campaign account.
A March 2012 story detailed thousands in DiVincenzo campaign spending on dinners and other events. The Star Ledger last week detailed another $7,000 in spending on dinners.
The commission also is seeking greater regulation of affiliated PACs in an effort to curtail the circumvention of pay to play laws. The law is directly aimed at PACs such as those disclosed last year that accept donations from contractors and funnel them to candidates in townships where the contractor does business.
Among the other initiatives proposed by ELEC is disclosure of activity by so-called 527 and 501 (c) groups in New Jersey campaigns. According to the agency these groups have taken hold in New Jersey yet their reporting is “woefully inadequate.”
The commission also is calling for a standardization of pay to play laws across all levels of government and an expansion of the prohibition against wheeling to include money movement between county parties throughout the year.
Many of ELEC’s proposals have already been picked up by lawmakers and introduced as legislation, while some, such as the initiative on PACs, have yet to pick up a sponsor.
A complete list of ELEC priorities as well as the agency’s explanation of their benefit, is below:
1. Requiring school board candidates to file candidate certified statements (A-1 forms) if they raise no contributions or make no expenditures.
Potential Benefit: School board candidates are the
only candidates except for write-in candidates who
are not required to make such a declaration. Given
that spending on school elections grew steadily during
the past decade, fuller disclosure by candidates
2. Expand the 48-hour notice requirement for continuing political committee (PACs) expenditures to require that they file notices for expenditures made to May Municipal, Runoff, School, and Special Elections.
Potential Benefit: More disclosure, since an increasing
amount of money is being spent on local elections.
When candidates spend campaign funds on dinners or
other meetings, they must keep detailed records about
who attended the event, what was purchased and why
they considered the expense “ordinary and necessary.”
Potential Benefit: More disclosure for the public and
less chance that a candidate will misuse campaign
funds for personal use.
3. Disclosure of Super PAC, 527 and 501(c) committee
Potential Benefit: Super PACs and non-profit groups
organized under Section 527 and Section 501(c) of
the IRS code have become active players in political
campaigns nationally and in New Jersey. Yet,
disclosure by these groups is woefully inadequate.
4. Simplifying and standardizing “pay-to-play” laws by prohibiting business entities from entering county or municipal contracts above $17,500 if they make certain political donations.
Potential Benefit: Extending the prohibition that
applies to state contractors to county and municipal
contractors should greatly reduce the “pay-to-play”
influence of business entities.
5. Expand the regulation of “wheeling” to include contributions by county political party committees to other county political party committees during the entire year to avoid circumvention of the contribution limits.
Potential Benefit: This will avoid intentional or
unintentional evasions of contribution limits. Currently,
there is no limit on transfers between county party
committees during the general election.
Require lobbying activity on behalf of government
agencies to be disclosed by registered lobbyists.
Potential Benefit: Wider disclosure could help
discourage unnecessary spending by public entities
and provide more transparency over governmental
6. Broaden the governmental activities law to include lobbying of local governmental entities.
Potential Benefit: These changes would dovetail with
current pay-to-play disclosure rules that are intended
to prevent contractors from exerting undue influence
over public officials. Local vendors who make
political donations must report them to ELEC if they
have major government contracts. They are not
required to disclose any indirect influence they exert
through lobbyists. A new disclosure requirement
would fix that oversight.
7. Change the filing date for personal financial disclosure
statements to improve efficiency.
Potential Benefit: Personal financial disclosure forms
of candidates discourage conflicts of interest by
revealing information about the wealth and assets of
those who seek elected office. Providing candidates
with more time in which to carefully complete these
forms, along with a less confusing due date, will
enhance compliance and disclosure with the law.
8. Discourage the proliferation of affiliated PACs in New Jersey.
Potential Benefit: This legislation would make it more
difficult for groups and individuals to evade the contribution limits and “pay-to-play” laws by
establishing multiple PACs.