In a bizarre procedural twist, New Jersey lawmakers Monday averted a veto override vote that could have deeply embarrassed Gov. Phil Murphy and instead re-sent him the same “dark money” bill he had already rejected.
The governor reportedly has agreed to sign it the second time around, but without making any of the changes that lawmakers had vowed to override. The move avoids a wholesale political revolt that could have made Murphy the first New Jersey governor in more than 20 years to have his veto overridden by the Legislature.
“I think the administration knew that there was an override and that it absolutely would’ve succeeded in both houses. But that being said, it’s not about trying to embarrass anybody. We wanted to get a piece of legislation passed that was meaningful and long overdue,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
“This is a very good bill. It has broad bipartisan support and makes sure that the bill that the Legislature passed, in fact, becomes the law,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex).
Lawmakers — Murphy’s fellow Democrats — refused to accept changes the governor had made to the “dark money” bill that’s designed to force more New Jersey political action organizations to identify people who donate more than $10,000.
Sweeney: ‘Let the light shine in’
“These PACs — we need to know who’s funding them. Let the light shine in. There’s nothing to hide here,” Sweeney said. Both Sweeney and Coughlin have PAC affiliations.
A tidal wave of so-called dark money has flooded New Jersey politics. It’s embroiled in controversy over a group called New Direction New Jersey, which supports Murphy with ads promoting a millionaires tax but has refused to reveal its list of donors’ funding.
While both the Senate and Assembly voted overwhelmingly for the reform measure, some Democrats acknowledged concerns by advocacy groups like the ACLU that are worried that identifying donors could chill contributions.
“There have been issues raised by some nonprofit groups and I’m rising to ask that we address those issues in some piece of separate legislation,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen).
ACLU-NJ released a statement noting that it “fiercely opposed” passage of the bill. “Advocates across the ideological spectrum have united to sound the alarm over the very real threats that come with forcing nonprofit social welfare organizations to turn over personal details about their supporters,” said Amol Sinha, its executive director, adding, “If the state enacts this bill into law, New Jersey invites a legal challenge … The ACLU-NJ is prepared to challenge this threat to our fundamental rights.”
Cleanup bill to follow?
A source close to the negotiations said late Monday that Murphy agreed to sign the bill only with the understanding that lawmakers will pass a cleanup bill later to address concerns.
“The bill is going to be signed as it was passed. If the governor has concerns, we can talk about them, but it has nothing to do with this bill,” Sweeney said. “And what we’re asking for and we’re hoping for is the administration and we work closer together, better together.”
While the do-over saved Murphy from an override, it also revealed that members of his own party were willing to vote against him. That is not auspicious for upcoming budget negotiations, according to one Republican.
“We’ve seen it happen in the past with the egos coming into play, state government shutting down, and somebody always has to capitulate. It kind of weakens whoever ends up capitulating,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen).
The bill goes to the governor who has agreed to sign it. But could there be changes down the legislative road? If there’s a legislative will, there’s a way.
NJ Spotlight contributed to this story.