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“Pay-to-Play” Restrictions Debated in Newark: Unfair Advantage for Popular Mayor?

Critics of “pay-to-play” restrictions have long come from throughout the political spectrum, raising concerns ranging from free speech to ballot access. But the recent “pay-to-play” proposals in Newark, NJ have been criticized by some public officials for a rather novel reason: they can’t pick up the phone and call Oprah for a contribution like their popular Mayor, Corey Booker, can.

While the proposed legislation in Newark is in its infancy and is likely to change, it appears to be aimed at limiting contributions from local redevelopment companies. Specifically, the Star Ledger reports that the legislation’s current language, “would bar contributions to city candidates from redevelopers, their subcontractors and their consultants starting the moment there is interest in an area for redevelopment.”

This concept is not a novel one, particularly in New Jersey, which has arguably the toughest “pay-to-play” laws in the country. In fact, numerous localities in New Jersey have similar laws on the books. And as we detailed previously, Governor Chris Christie has proposed a wave of robust reforms that would further regulate the political law environment in the Garden State.

What is unique here, however, are claims such as the ones contained in the Star Ledger article:

As “pay-to-play” legislation limiting campaign donations from local redevelopers wends its way through City Hall, some city leaders are saying the proposed fundraising restrictions would create an unfair playing field for candidates who don’t have Oprah Winfrey on speed dial.

“I am not a rock star councilwoman,” said at large council member Mildred Crump this week. “We have a rock star mayor.”

Indeed, candidates without nationwide networks would be more directly impacted by the current Newark “pay-to-play” proposals than a national figure like Mayor Booker. Yet another reason for some to dislike this sort of piecemeal “pay-to-play” regulation. Nonetheless, reports on the ground indicate that passage of some form of this legislation is likely.

In any case, New Jersey continues to be a focal point for developments in the “pay-to-play” arena. We will monitor such developments closely as the end of 2010 nears.

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“Pay-to-Play” Restrictions Debated in Newark: Unfair Advantage for Popular Mayor?

NJ Governor Christie Proposes Sweeping Ethics Reform Package; Robust New “Pay-to-Play” Provisions On the Horizon

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently announced an ambitious proposal to overhaul New Jersey’s ethics regulations which takes aim at perceived campaign finance loopholes and conflicts of interest, while also significantly increasing disclosure requirements for legislators. Importantly, the proposals by Christie, who campaigned vigorously on ethics reform, also contain several new “pay-to-play” regulations.

Specifically, an announcement from the Governor’s office announced three proposals which would directly address New Jersey’s current “pay-to-play” regime.

First, Christie has stated that he will “impose a uniform set of contract award standards on all levels of government and all branches of state government” by ending the “fair and open contract” exception for businesses that make reportable campaign contributions at the legislative, county and municipal levels, but are currently still able to receive contract awards valued greater than $17,500 with local governments. As Christie correctly notes, this practice is not currently permitted at the state/gubernatorial level.

Christie also aims to restrict what is commonly known as “wheeling” by “imposing contribution limitations on county and municipal committees for committee-to-committee contributions and committee contributions to out-of-county or out-of municipality candidates.” If enacted, this proposal would have a significant impact primarily at the local level, where contributions are routinely “wheeled” between committees, making the original source of campaign contributions unclear.

Finally, and most controversially, Christie proposes to limit political contributions from labor unions which have contracts with the state. As you will recall, Christie previously signed an executive order setting forth such regulations, only to have the Executive Order overturned by a state appeals court, which stated that legislation was necessary in order to enact such restrictions. Given that Christie is a Republican taking aim at perhaps the largest source of campaign contributions to Democrats, it is certain that this proposal will be met with significant opposition in the Democratic controlled legislature.

While the specifics of the proposals are sure to change in substance throughout the legislative process, it appears as if at least some new “pay-to-play” provisions are on the horizon in the garden state. As we have indicated previously here with respect to pay-to-play regulation, structure and statewide uniformity are sorely needed within the Garden State. We will continue to monitor what is sure to be a dynamic situation in New Jersey.

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NJ Governor Christie Proposes Sweeping Ethics Reform Package; Robust New “Pay-to-Play” Provisions On the Horizon

Governor Christie Issues Pay-to-Play Executive Order

As we mentioned in our previous blog entry, New Jersey is giving even further attention to its pay-to-play laws. Yesterday, to show the seriousness of his promises of reform, Governor Chris Christie issued an executive order that curbs political donations by labor unions and is intended to prevent pay-to-play politics from this donor group. Specifically, unions are now included in the group of donors who are barred from having state contracts worth more than $17,500 if they had donated more than $300 to a campaign for Governor or county political committee in the previous 18 months.

Democrats are voicing their opposition saying it is “over the top”, as an important portion of their base is made up of labor unions. They do not believe the order will stay in place, denouncing it as an unconstitutional violation of free speech. Governor Christie claims that this simply applies the same rules as other similar types of businesses must comply with such as law and engineering firms.

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Governor Christie Issues Pay-to-Play Executive Order