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New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce v. New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission

Decided: July 1, 1975.

NEW JERSEY STATE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, ET AL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NEW JERSEY ELECTION LAW ENFORCEMENT COMMISSION, ET AL, DEFENDANTS



Kimmelman, J.s.c.

Kimmelman

[135 NJSuper Page 540] The constitutionality of certain disclosure and reporting requirements of the New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act, L. 1973, c. 83, § 1 et seq., effective April 24, 1973, N.J.S.A. 19:44A-1 et seq., which are imposed upon those who would seek to influence or otherwise affect the legislative process are here under attack. While admitting a valid state interest in the need or desirability for legislators to know the identity of those who would influence them and the amounts of money thereby spent, plaintiffs, numbering among them the State Chamber of Commerce, major trade associations, commercial and labor organizations and other civic groups, nevertheless contend that such provisions are unconstitutional because of facial overbreadth and infringement upon the right of free speech.

Apart from the dollar limitations imposed upon spending by candidates for public office and the disclosure and reporting requirements imposed upon them and upon state, county and municipal committees of recognized political parties, the act further requires that any group of "two or more persons acting jointly, or any corporation, partnership, or any other incorporated or unincorporated association * * * which seeks to influence the content, introduction, passage or defeat of legislation" (such group being defined and hereinafter referred to as a "political information organization"), N.J.S.A. 19:44A-3(g), to appoint a treasurer and designate a depository (bank) before receiving any contribution or expending any money to influence the legislative process, N.J.S.A. 19:44A-13; to receive and expend funds only "through the duly appointed treasurer" N.J.S.A. 19:44A-14; to make and file with the Election Law Enforcement Commission "a full report * * * of all moneys * * * contributed to it and all expenditures made * * * by it" to seek to influence the legislative process, N.J.S.A. 19:44A-8, 16, and also to "file with the Election Law Enforcement Commission not later than March 1 of each year, an annual report of all moneys * * * contributed to it and all expenditures * * * by it, whether or not such expenditures were made * * * to seek to influence" the legislative process. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-8. (All emphases provided).

The act in similar fashion regulates "political committees," defined as "any two or more persons acting jointly, or any corporation, partnership or other incorporated or unincorporated association which is organized to, or does, aid or promote the nomination, election or defeat of any candidate or candidates for public office, or which is organized to, or does aid or promote the passage or defeat of a public question in any election." N.J.S.A. 19:44A-3(i), N.J.S.A. 19:44A-10. Political information organizations and political committees under the legislative scheme have overlapping

definitions, except with respect to influencing the legislative process, which is confined to the former. Compare § 3(g) with § 3(i).

Individual persons, not acting in concert with any other person or group, may expend personally from their own funds a sum not to exceed $100 exclusive of traveling expenses, to support or defeat a candidate or to aid the passage or defeat of a public question, N.J.S.A. 19:44A-11, or to provide political information on any candidate or public question, or to seek to influence the legislative process. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-14. Expenditures by individuals above the $100 level require reporting to the Election Law Enforcement Commission. Groups of two or more persons acting together are neither allowed the $100 leeway nor the traveling expense exclusion but must comply with the act before engaging in political activity requiring the expenditure of money.

Nowhere in the act is there contained any threshold level of contributions to be received or expenditures to be made by a political information organization or political committee before there is triggered into effect the requirements to appoint a treasurer and a depository, to receive and expend only through such agencies and to report in detail to the Election Law Enforcement Commission. To those groups the act applies immediately. The only significant monetary exemption is the permission to exclude from the disclosure reports the names of those contributors whose contributions did not exceed $100 during the reporting period, although the aggregate amount of such $100 or lesser contributions must be reported. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-8.

Thus, it would appear from the express statutory wording that any corporation, any partnership and any association of two or more persons who spend as little as $1 to provide political information (press releases, pamphlets, newsletters, advertisements, flyers, etc., N.J.S.A. 19:44A-3(h)), about candidates or any public question, or make

any similarly slight and insignificant expenditure for travel, postage stamps, stationery, telephone charges and the like in an attempt to arouse public support or in direct contact with legislators to influence the content, introduction, passage or defeat of legislation, are subject to regulation by the act. As noted, individuals, acting alone, who engage in the identical activity but spend $100 or less are completely exempted. In addition, these groups of two or more persons must, with respect to contributions received by them and presumably with respect to their own funds, put the same in the hands of their designated treasurer who, in turn, must run the same through their designated bank depository before spending the funds on political activity. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-15. Noncompliance with the requirements of the act may result in the assessment of substantial penalties. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-22.

Subsequent to the commencement of this litigation the Election Law Enforcement Commission adopted regulations exempting political information organizations and political committees from the reporting and other requirements of the act if the total amount of their expenditures did not exceed $100 during the applicable calendar year or election period. N.J.A.C. 19:25-1.7, 4.7, 12.1; 6 N.J.R. 371 et seq. (September 25, 1974). On behalf of defendants it is urged that the adoption of these regulations is within the permissible regulatory scope of the Election Law Enforcement Commission, to implement the provisions of the act. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-6(b). On the other hand, plaintiffs claim that the alleged constitutional infirmities inherent in the act cannot be cured by regulations which clearly contravene the act by purporting to limit the direct and explicit statutory wording contained in § 8, which requires the ...


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