By Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker & Senator Troy Singleton
As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the monumental Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which has brought with it an unprecedented explosion in political spending by independent special interest groups, we jointly renew the call for transparency.
Entering 2020, we look back on a decade of court decisions that together have empowered special interests to wield unlimited, undisclosed sums of money funneled in by wealthy donors and organizations to distort our elections and threaten the foundation of our democracy.
The compound of this has been groups who do not disclose their donors flooding federal elections with $963 million in outside spending, according to data from Open Secrets. Shockingly, that number had been only a mere $129 million in the previous decade. In New Jersey alone, according to data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, “dark money” spending by independent groups ballooned to nearly $100 million in just the 2017 and 2018 election cycles.
This puts spending by these groups at the gubernatorial, legislative and congressional levels together at more than twice the combined spending by county and state political committees – who under law are bound to disclose large donors. By virtue, that puts our ability to identify sources of campaign funding to less than half the total amount of contributions streaming into New Jersey elections.
The relentless increase of dark money spending has steadily eroded our ability to know who is attempting to influence our elections as groups are able to keep their sources of funding a secret, opaque to the public. Their influence is profound and has impacted elections at all levels of government.
But this issue goes beyond electioneering. The interests backed by dark money have become infused into every part of political life, and now also tremendously impact the outcomes of public policy. Without clearer regulation and reforms, this threatens the general interest of the people of New Jersey. That’s why the Garden State needs to take a stand and shine a light on dark money.
This issue is about people and the protection of equitable democracy where the interests of a few aren’t being disproportionately prioritized over the interests of the many. Voters have a right to know where the money is coming from in order to make empowered, informed decisions about the people they want representing them.
We cannot afford for progress on dark money reform to be stunted by groups across the political spectrum who benefit from or advocate for nondisclosure. They know who they are. Our law (S-150), currently on hold since October 2019 due to a court-issued injunction, is timely. As written and enacted, it will require dark money groups to report large sums of contributions when operating in New Jersey.
And despite pending litigation allowing dark money to stay dark, we are committed to continuing the fight because shining a light is the single most important step we can take toward good government.
At present without reform, New Jersey is falling short of its commitments under this law to set a precedent for accountability, transparency and fairness when it comes to money driving politics.
The simple fact is this: Everybody is in favor of disclosure until they have to disclose. The people of New Jersey deserve better and so does our democracy.
Senator Troy Singleton represents the 7th Legislative District. Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker represents the 16th Legislative District. Both are sponsors of dark money legislation (S-150) signed into law by the governor in June 2019.