ELEC outlines list of campaign finance priorities

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

seems warranted.

 

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

activity.

 

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

activities.

 

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.

ELEC outlines list of campaign finance priorities