“‘More money, less disclosure’: N.J.’s new elections law fails a key test”


This fall, the longtime New Jersey political boss George Norcross helped a shadowy group called Jersey Freedom split Republican votes to benefit Democrats in some of the most competitive districts in the state.

In ads, the organization promoted Republicans who did not actively campaign and whose petitions were circulated by an unsuccessful GOP candidate with reported ties to South Jersey Democrats allied with Norcross.

In an only-in-New Jersey twist, the maneuver was possible without knowing who funded it until three weeks after the Nov. 7 election thanks to a new campaign finance law ironically called the Elections Transparency Act. It overhauled New Jersey’s campaign finance rules to allow doubling of contributions and gutted state and local pay-to-play ordinances. Democrats seemed to benefit, with more spending by super PACs and other outside political groups than all but one state-level election in history.

A little-noticed amendment in the law allowed outside groups to legally bankroll so-called phantom candidates — whose main purpose is to siphon off votes from “legitimate candidates,” according to a lawsuit — without disclosing their donors’ identities before Election Day. In response, Republicans sued Jersey Freedom before the election and a state court judge froze its spending. That judge heard oral arguments Monday.

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