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NJ Gov. Murphy just signed a revolutionary campaign finance law. It’s bad news for Princeton students.

A silver, steel train has a blue, maroon, and orange stripe on it.
The Dinky at Princeton Station.
José Pablo Fernández García / The Daily Princetonian

State legislators in Trenton were busy before leaving for their April break. They passed a controversial bill changing New Jersey’s campaign finance laws, which Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed into law without the usual fanfare of a press conference. Intense opposition to the paradoxically named “Elections Transparency Act” united the far left and far right of Jersey politics, and for good reason: it is the antithesis of good government, undermining the interests of New Jersey residents. Endangering the Dinky bidding process, it has specific harms for Princeton students.

First, the bill removes some of New Jersey’s regulations restricting “pay-to-play” politics. Under the new law, businesses seeking government contracts are no longer prohibited from contributing to party committees, which fund many of New Jersey’s elections. Thus, the bill weakens protections created to ensure a fair and competitive process for awarding government contracts to businesses.


Second, it doubles the contribution limits for most races, allowing individuals and companies to contribute double to political candidates or groups in the state. More crucially, it also changes the enforcement of campaign finance violations, overhauling the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), New Jersey’s chief electoral regulatory and compliance body. Under the new law, the statute of limitations for campaign finance violations drops from 10 years to just two years, a drastically shorter time period for state investigators to bring a case against suspected violators than most other states. This brief time frame allows campaign finance violators to walk away free because it often takes investigators more than two years to uncover violations.

And it’s not just the contents of the new law that are a problem. Its most controversial provisions were negotiated as amendments behind closed doors, lacking public transparency, and its complete contents weren’t publicized until after the governor signed it. And it gets worse: it just so happens that this new law helps Governor Murphy out of three complaints filed with the ELEC earlier this year against Democratic Party-affiliated groups in New Jersey. These groups have connections to the governor and his political allies, but with the passage of this new law, the three accusations fall outside the new statute of limitations. With the stroke of his pen, Governor Murphy ended these investigations.

Furthermore, the so-called “Elections Transparency Act” removes the requirement for the governor to seek approval from the New Jersey Senate when appointing members of the ELEC’s board, making the board a new inside game. After the bill passed, the three ELEC commissioners resigned in protest, giving the governor a blank canvas to appoint his own investigators. With the passage of this new law, Governor Murphy removed current allegations against him and now possesses the power to handpick the people charged with investigating him. How is this accountability? 

The new law is detrimental because it permits politicians to act without accountability. As we work towards becoming a more equitable nation, campaign finance regulation ensures that political power is more evenly distributed rather than held by a few who can afford to sway those in government. 

But beyond the broad, moral claims against the law, it also causes specific and practical harm to residents of New Jersey, including Princeton students. Trenton influences many aspects of our lives at Princeton, from environmental regulations to public safety policies. One example of the state government’s influence on student life is the Princeton Branch of NJTransit, the Dinky. As reported in the Prince,’ NJTransit is about to embark on a multiyear process of redeveloping the Dinky. As a state-owned public corporation, NJTransit is ultimately accountable to Governor Murphy. Removing the restrictions on pay-to-play means that if a contractor donates enough to the Murphy campaign, the scales could be flipped in their favor when evaluating bids on the Dinky rehabilitation contract. Considering that the Dinky project might be worth tens of millions of dollars, the lack of pay-to-play regulations incentivizes companies to influence their chances of securing this project through campaign donations, removing the need to deliver a successful and effective Dinky rehabilitation and thus hampering the quality of transit afforded to Princeton students. 

This bill moves New Jersey in the wrong direction. Strong campaign finance laws ensure strong government and effective policy; this new law incentivizes worse government work. We should hold Governor Murphy, as governor of New Jersey, as well an ex-officio member of Princeton’s Board of Trustees, to a high standard of accountability. Princeton is watching Trenton officials, including Governor Murphy, change the laws to benefit their own goals over the interests of the state of New Jersey. With some claiming Governor Murphy has his sights on the White House, New Jerseyans and Princeton students deserve better from their elected officials. 


Preston Ferraiuolo is a first-year from Brooklyn, N.Y., intending to major in the School of Public and International Affairs. He can be reached at

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