Declaring that ethics reform is only effective if it treats all parties equally, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R- Union) announced that he submitted legislation Thursday that would close what he described as the most substantial loophole in New Jersey's anti-pay to play law.
The bill would apply the same restrictions on campaign contributions and activity that currently exist for other government service providers to labor unions under contract, including project-labor agreements, with state, county, or municipal government entities.
"Labor unions are no different than a legal or engineering firm: they negotiate contracts for services with elected officials," Kean said. "In fact, labor unions receive among the largest government contracts given out year after year, yet are free to wield unparalleled financial influence in electing the very same people who sit opposite them at the bargaining table."
Democratic candidates benefit from labor union political donations and with the party in control of the Legislature, Kean's proposal does not have a bright future.
Kean noted that, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, organized labor outspent the next closest interest group by a margin of 8-1 in the 2010 election cycle, and 17-1 during the 2009 gubernatorial and legislative election season. 11 of the 15 top spending special interest committees (PAC's) identified by ELEC were run by unions in the 2010 election cycle.
The senator said local governments spend well over 50 percent of their overall budgets on pay and benefits for their mostly unionized workforces.
"Campaign finance and ethics reform only works if it curtails all special interest groups equally and does not carve out any exceptions to benefit one party or another," Kean said. "Pay to play reform was passed to limit the influence of big spending contractors over the public officials from whom they are trying to obtain work. That law missed one of the biggest recipients of public dollars and thus, must be fixed in the interest of fairness and honesty."
Gov. Chris Christie attempted to extend pay to play regulations to organized labor via executive order early in his first year in office. An appeals court struck down the order on the grounds that revising the state's pay-to-play law could only be done by an act of the Legislature, which is Democratic-controlled.
"My colleagues in the majority frequently express outrage at the influence of special interest dollars in politics," Kean concluded. "By posting this legislation for a vote, they can join me in working to curtail the corrosive influence of special interest money of all political persuasions."
--TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM