Bribery of political candidates may soon become illegal, closing a long-standing loophole that for years has excluded candidates and elected officials who have not yet taken the oath from corruption laws.
Bills passed by committees in both the Senate and the Assembly provide for the application of bribery laws to candidates for public office and elected officials who have not yet taken office.
“The law should be clear and final that government officials and those seeking public office will be punished for trying to sell the integrity of the civil service,” said Senator Joseph Krayan, D-Union, who sponsored the Senate bill. C-510.
Henal Patel, director of the Democracy and Justice Program at the Institute of Social Justice in New Jersey, said the bill was needed to ensure that New Jersey had a “working, prosperous democracy.”
“The current law distinguishes bribery of elected officials from bribery of candidates for office – and allows the latter,” Patel said. “This is pointless and bad for democracy. This law – which closes this gap – is an important measure in building greater public confidence in our system and strengthening our electoral process. “
An example of this loophole is breaking through the courts right now.
Jason O’Donnell, a former MP who ran for mayor of Bayonne in 2018, was arrested in 2019 and charged by then-Attorney General Gurbir Greval in a meeting with a lawyer who allegedly gave him cash and said he wanted to be hired. around the city.
At the time, O’Donnell’s lawyer, Leo Hurley, did not acknowledge that the exchange took place, but in court documents argued that O’Donnell could not be accused of bribery because he was a private citizen when he ran for mayor in 2018. “Danel lost this race.
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Last year, a Supreme Court judge ruled that because O’Donnell was not an elected official at the time, he was not allowed to make promises in exchange for money. The case remains in the Court of Appeal.
Robert Out, R-Old Tappan, Gregory McGuckin, R-Ocean, and Marilyn Piperna, R-Monmouth, are the main sponsors of the bill A-2472 in the Assembly.
Piperna said it was “embarrassing” that such legislation was necessary.
“Unfortunately, this says a lot about the state of our state,” she said. “Given all we need to do to fix New Jersey, I’m glad this law of common sense is finally gaining momentum.”
Mika Rasmussen of the Rebovich Institute for Politics in New Jersey at Ryder University sees the bills as a way to make politicians understand what they can and cannot do.
“If I were running, I would be grateful to know what is legal and what is not,” he said. “This may seem like an obvious question, but at a time when successful candidates have to spend a huge amount of their time raising funds, it’s not unprecedented when donors ask for something. I think our federal and state laws have suffered from a lack of clarity regarding intentions and capabilities. ”
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The bill would make bribery in “official and political matters” for these individuals a second-degree crime, punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 150,000, unless the cost of the bribe is less than $ 200, which will be a crime of the third degree.
Similar bills lay before the Assembly Committee for ten years and were introduced in the Senate only during the last session. Bills still have to pass to the Senate and Assembly before they get to the governor’s table.
The assembly is due to vote on the bill on Thursday. A vote in the Senate is not yet scheduled.
Katie Sobko is a reporter at the New Jersey Statehouse. To get unlimited access to her work concerning the Governor of New Jersey and the political power structure, sign up or activate your digital account today.