In Brief

Scutari, Cryan election law reform bills get Assembly counterparts

By: - November 10, 2021 6:50 am

Sen. Joe Cryan said the bills may not move until 2022. (Courtesy of New Jersey Senate Democrats)

Two separate Senate bills that would radically alter how candidates report campaign contributions each saw Assembly counterparts introduced Monday.

The measures, sponsored separately in the upper chamber by Sens. Joe Cryan (D-Union) and Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), would each require political candidates and committees to report campaign donations on a rolling basis.

Existing law requires candidates disclose fundraising and spending each quarter to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, and on specific dates surrounding a given election, with rolling disclosures in the final 13 days of a race.

“I think ELEC deserves a good review overall, but more importantly, I think it’s for public confidence,” Cryan said.

The bills are part of a broader push to reform ELEC fueled in part by its slow resolution of campaign finance complaints and amid a push to give it oversight over sexual harassment and misconduct in campaigns.

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester) is sponsoring both measures in the lower chamber.

Cryan’s bill would require campaigns report contributions to ELEC within 48 hours of their receipt and would mandate those disclosures be publicly posted within 72 hours.

Scutari’s bill would make more sweeping changes to New Jersey’s campaign finance watchdog, requiring all contributions above $200 and all expenditures be reported to the commission within 72 hours.

Unlike those mandated by the Cryan’s bill, these disclosures would supplant quarterly reports candidates are required to file under existing law. More controversially, the bill would also eliminate campaign contribution limits, a provision that has drawn a wary gaze from Gov. Phil Murphy.

Individuals are limited to giving $2,600 to a candidate per election under existing law, with larger caps for contributions to legislative leadership committees and state, county, and municipal party organizations. Primary and general elections are distinct from one another for the purposes of political giving.

Despite their agreement on rolling reporting, Cryan said he is not prepared to support unlimited donations to candidates.

“I’m not sure that I would agree on eliminating limits, but that’ll be a discussion point,” he said. “I think we’re actually on the same thing, which is the public is entitled to know timely campaign donations and what they mean, and the technology is certainly available today to do that.”

ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle has repeatedly called for limits on contribution to political parties to be raised in recent years, but that policy shift has most often been presented as a means of curtailing contributions to super PACs and other organizations with laxer — or, in some cases, non-existent — disclosure requirements.

Neither bill has seen a committee vote, and Cryan was unsure whether that would change before the end of the lame-duck session in early January.

“My sense is this would be a 2022 opportunity, not a 2021,” he said, later adding, “I don’t think we’ve built enough of a case for it yet.”

The push to retool ELEC is in part driven by discontent over the slow pace with which it handles alleged campaign finance violations. The commission last Wednesday released final decisions in campaign finance complaints lodged against six municipal candidates who ran in 2018 and 2019.

“People get very frustrated,” Cryan said. “We’ve got to do something with ELEC. You can’t violate all the rules and three-and-a-half centuries later get a result.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.