S1500, frequently labeled the “dark money” bill, passed yesterday in the New Jersey Senate by a vote of 31-0. The bill has yet to be considered by the New Jersey Assembly. As previously discussed here on our blog, the bill approved by the Senate would require 501(c)(4) and similar organizations that spend at least $3,000 annually on “influencing or attempting to influence the outcome of any election” or “the passage or defeat of any public question, legislation or regulation” to register with ELEC and disclose their donations received and expenditures made.
As the Assembly evaluates its next steps, it is unclear whether the final law will include retroactive disclosure to January 1, 2018. Although the purpose of S1500 has been described as increasing public disclosure and transparency in the political process, this law would also have an impact on civic associations and individuals who contribute to issue-based groups based on ideological, rather than, political purposes. The question then becomes – how do you balance transparency and disclosure with donor privacy and the First Amendment right of association?
As we watch and wait to see what the Assembly does, donors need to begin thinking about the possibility of disclosure and groups involved in issue-based activity here in New Jersey should consider how this law may impact their overall operations.