Murphy says ethics reforms can attack political cynicism
NEW BRUNSWICK – Gov. Phil Murphy wants the Legislature to approve a package of ethics and government reforms that span from lobbying to financial disclosure to the transparency of the legislative process.
Murphy detailed the proposals in a speech at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, which follow a promise from his State of the State. He said the five bills have bipartisan sponsors – Sen. Dick Codey, D-Essex, a former governor; Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic; and Assemblyman Ryan Peters, R-Burlington – and hopes for more as the process unfolds.
But he also acknowledged that some of the ideas are likely to be criticized by some in the Legislature, saying they “challenge, or even threaten, a status quo in which they are at present very comfortable.”
“Make no mistake, these are big proposals that will upset some people. But we must attack the understandable cynicism that discourages so many people by opening up our democracy, and allowing our residents to be more engaged and better informed,” Murphy said. “They are designed to make serious, profound and lasting changes to Trenton’s culture.”
The package’s nine proposals would:
- Have lawmakers and legislative staffers complete the more detailed annual financial disclosure form now required in the executive branch. Moreover, a new disclosure form would be created for people paid more than $100,000 a year.
- Require senior legislative staffers to receive permission from the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards to earn outside income, as applies to Governor’s Office senior staff members and the State Ethics Commission.
- Apply the Open Public Records Act to communications with the Legislature in the same way it applies to the executive branch.
- Require lobbying firms and companies that hire them to disclose details about indirect efforts to influence public policy such as advertising, consulting, public relations and research, sometimes called ‘shadow lobbying.’
- Compel more people to register as lobbyists – for as little as one hour a year of lobbying for which they’re paid at least $100, as opposed to the current threshold of 20 hours.
- Prohibit lawmakers and legislative staffers from accepting any gifts from lobbyists. They can currently accept gifts worth $250 or less.
- Double the ‘cooling off’ period in which former governors, Cabinet members and lawmakers cannot register as lobbyists from one year to two and also apply it to all executive and legislative staffers with salaries of $100,000 or more.
- Require bills to be posted online for at least 72 hours before they could be voted on, unless the Legislature waives the rule by a three-fourths vote.
- Include information on the page on the Legislature’s website that shows information about a bill disclosing all organizations or individuals that supported or opposed it through written testimony.
“These proposals will shine light into the dark corners of our politics, and reinstill faith, as best we can, that those elected to serve are there to serve the people – all of the people – and not the special, or their own, interests,” Murphy said.
A comprehensive set of ethics reforms haven’t been passed in Trenton since 2005. Murphy said that in 2012, a study by the Center for Public Integrity gave New Jersey’s ethics laws a B+ grade but that it had slipped to D by 2015.
“The time has come to take another whack at the long-standing so-called traditions of Trenton. The time is now to dig deeper, and work harder, to change the culture,” Murphy said.
Murphy said that in the coming weeks, he will issue an executive order that will increase transparency in state and local government for those who do business with the state.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.