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You are here: Home News "Beyond Bergen" - News From Across New Jersey In Trenton, a bold move towards cleaner elections. Seriously. | Moran

News From "Beyond Bergen"

In Trenton, a bold move towards cleaner elections. Seriously. | Moran

After years of delay, a bill to force disclosure of secret donations to dark money funds is on a fast track for approval.

A rare political moment has arrived, as the Legislature moves to demand that secret donors who bankroll elections in New Jersey step forward from the shadows and identify themselves. A strong bill to require full disclosure recently won unanimous approval from a Senate committee, and Gov. Phil Murphy says he fully supports it.

The finish line is in sight. The question now is whether the Assembly will get on board, and at this stage, Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, is the last big player to join the fight. The companion bill in the Assembly, which has languished for two years, hasn't moved an inch yet.

The bill does nothing to limit giant donations from monied special interest groups, like public worker unions and real estate developers. The courts have blocked those efforts on free speech grounds, most infamously with the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.

But there is no legal barrier to forcing disclosure. The only barrier is political. Donors who want to preserve their outsized influence have conspired with venal politicians in both parties to block reform.

Leaving this dark money option in place renders other election laws meaningless. It allows special interest group to sidestep limits on donations. It allows lawyers and engineers who have contracts with state and local governments to evade pay-to-play restrictions. And it keeps the rest of us in dark, unable to see who is pulling the strings in the back rooms where deals are struck.

Murphy has been a big phony on this, posing as a reformer while taking full advantage of the secrecy. His senior advisors started a dark money fund soon after he was elected, and Murphy himself solicited money for it and appeared in TV ads the group produced. The group, led by Brendan Gill, promised to reveal its donors at the end of 2018, and then broke that promise. Murphy says he wants them to release the names, but it's a kabuki dance. He has kept all the advisors who run the fund close.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, is equally tainted. He received a secret donation of $55,000 from PSEG a few months after he pushed through a shameless bill to grant PSEG up to $300 million a year in subsidies for its nuclear plant. It was discovered only became PSEG sent the check to the wrong fund, one that requires disclosure. Consider that the Sweeney Surcharge on your electric bill.

Both men are atoning for these sins by supporting the bill. Here's hoping that Coughlin joins them soon.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

Read full article at NJ.com