TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s new law requiring some political groups to disclose their donors is a “monstrosity” that could ruin organizations, lawyers for the conservative think tank founded by the Koch brothers told a federal judge Tuesday.
But the state argued the June law is aimed at uncovering who is pulling the strings behind the scenes in politics and should be allowed to move forward amid expected regulations to clarify it.
The case before U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti brought by Americans for Prosperity against the state involves New Jersey’s ability to require political groups and some nonprofits that advocate for political issues to disclose their donors.
Americans for Prosperity argued the law doesn’t meet constitutional muster because the First Amendment safeguards citizens’ right to associate privately and advocate anonymously. The group petitioned the court to block the law.
“There’s no narrow reading that’s going to make this monstrosity anything other than a monstrosity,” attorney Derek Shaffer said.
The state argued that its interests in transparency are enough to outweigh organizations’ concern over keeping contribution and expenditure information secret.
“The issue is who is pulling the strings? Where is that money coming from?” Deputy Attorney General Stuart Feinblatt said. “That’s what this law is about.”
The law requires political groups and nonprofits known under the law as social welfare groups to disclose all spending over $3,000, up from $1,600. But a key change to prior law is that contributors that give over $10,000 would also be disclosed under the proposal.
The law also requires quarterly as well as registration with state officials, among other requirements, which AFP argued were onerous.
The group also suggested that donors from other states could be swept up under the New Jersey law because money coming from different states and going to a group’s headquarters could then be spent in New Jersey, “tripping” the state’s disclosure law.
It’s unclear when a ruling from Marinotti could come and whether the decision would also cover similar lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit Illinois Opportunity Project.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed the law this year after first rejecting it and saying he had “constitutional concerns” about the measure, specifically the First Amendment’s association rights.
Murphy signed the bill after the Democrat-led Legislature threatened an override of his veto, though the governor and the bill’s sponsor said that a follow-up bill to “fix” the measure would be coming.
Such a fix has not advanced, though, since the state Senate president said a “fix” wasn’t part of the deal to enact the law.
Americans for Prosperity is a political network backed by conservative industrialists Charles and the late David Koch.
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