Sen. Joe Cryan said the bill provides clarity on who the Legislature believes should not be permitted to accept cash bribes. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Both chambers of the Legislature unanimously approved a bill Thursday extending the state’s bribery statute to candidates for public office and officials-elect, with supporters saying it will ensure no one is permitted to abuse public office for personal gain.
The measure was initially proposed after a bribery case against ex-Assemblyman Lou Manzo fell apart because Manzo was not an elected official at the time he was accused of accepting a bribe. It had been at a standstill for nearly 10 years before moving through committees in both chambers earlier this month.
“Tenth year’s the charm,” McGuckin said.
The bill now awaits Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature.
The federal judge in Manzo’s case ruled the state bribery statute applies only to currently elected officials, not private citizens seeking public office. The ruling in that case was cited by a state Superior Court judge last June when she dismissed similar charges against former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who was accused of taking $10,000 from a cooperating witness in exchange for the promise of municipal tax work while O’Donnell was running for mayor of Bayonne.
State prosecutors appealed that decision, and arguments in the case were held Monday. Attorneys for the state say New Jersey’s existing bribery law was meant to encompass office-seekers and officials who have been elected but have yet to take office.
Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), the bill’s Senate sponsor, said the measure makes it clear that candidates for public office who take cash before an election in exchange for promising a future favor are guilty of bribery.
“The bill does what the Legislature’s supposed to do: Define a crime and puts the legislature’s intent in clarity, in black and white,” Cryan said.
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