The Issues: Ethics and Electoral Reform Plan

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Real Change Requires Real Democracy:

Jim Johnson’s Ethics and Electoral Reform Plan


Around the country, New Jersey politics has become synonymous with shady, backroom deals. For decades, bipartisan groups of elected and unelected leaders have created a politics that takes care of those in office rather than the people they are supposed to serve. Every election year, the political insiders and party bosses handpick candidates rather than give voice to the will of the people. The result is fewer dollars for schools and hospitals and taxpayer relief. It means more federal grants lost due to incompetence. It means a government that responds to special interests, rather than the needs of working families. Real change requires real democracy.

It is going to take an independent change agent who is willing to call the insiders out and tell them that this time will be different. Jim Johnson has taken on the mob and drug cartels as a federal prosecutor, and has a long history of bringing communities together to achieve results. He won’t be afraid to challenge the powerful. Johnson has a six-part plan to clean up Trenton and put power back where it belongs: in the hands of the people of this state.

  • Eliminate No-Bid Contracts. In New Jersey, receiving state business is often dependent on who you know, not the quality of the job you’ll do. That costs taxpayers millions and perpetuates a system based on crony capitalism. The Christie Administration’s practice of awarding nine-figure contracts in a no-bid process must end. If Johnson is elected Governor, any contracts awarded by state agencies will go through transparent and open processes that select proposals based on merit rather than favoritism or nepotism. In addition, a Johnson administration will increase transparency by posting details of the bidding process online as well as progress on projects. That way, taxpayers can hold government accountable.
  • Stop the “Revolving Door” of Lobbyists. As the chair of the Brennan Center for Justice, Johnson spent much of his career fighting the negative influence of money in politics. We know that too often lobbyists use political contributions in order to drown out the will of the people. That’s why he’ll ban political contributions from lobbyists. Additionally, many towns and counties hire lobbyists to act on their behalf and taxpayers deserve to know how much of their own money is going toward lobbyist payment. Finally, lobbyists will have to disclose when they’re lobbying at the local level instead of the current requirement where disclosure is only necessary when they’re lobbying at the state level.
  • Implement A Transparency Pledge. As more New Jersey politicians try to hide their schedules from public view, Johnson’s Administration will pledge to be the most transparent in New Jersey history. He will release his public schedules online, provide a visitor’s log for all state business and disclose any meetings that take place so the public can be confident that there are no conflicts of interest. He will also direct agencies to proactively release data that the state has so researchers and journalists can have the access they need to innovate and hold government accountable.
  • Only Allow One Public Pension. There are too many public officials that “double dip,” a practice where they can receive two public pensions or receive one public pension while they continue to work in another government job. In the past, lawmakers have taken part-time public positions just to enhance the amount of their pensions. This is unfair to taxpayers and to public employees who use the pension system as it was originally intended. It also limits the ability of more citizens to participate in government.
  • Ban “Conflict Of Interest” Employment For Legislators And County Executives. Some New Jersey lawmakers work part-time jobs for companies with millions of dollars in government contracts. This creates conflicts of interest where lawmakers can pass legislation and influence contracts that pad their own pocketbooks. In order to clean up these conflicts of interest, Johnson will end this practice.
  • Fill Appointments To State Boards With Competent Subject-Matter Experts. For too long, New Jersey politicians have treated seats on policy advisory boards as favors to be handed out to political loyalists and donors. In order to ensure that the Governor is getting the best possible advice and that the government is working in service of the people, Johnson will appoint qualified, impartial subject-matter experts to government boards. He will build on the work of other initiatives around the country where appointments are made through an open and transparent application process with openings posted online. He will undertake strong recruitment efforts to get the most diverse and talented candidate pool possible before an independent screening committee helps to select candidates based on merit.


In the last gubernatorial election, New Jersey’s voter turnout was an abysmal 39.6%. For decades, political insiders have tried to make people believe that their voices don’t matter. Jim believes exactly the opposite. He has spent his entire career fighting for more democratic elections and protecting average citizens from voter suppression. As Chair of the Brennan Center for Justice, he fought against big money in politics. He was personally involved in voter protection efforts in Colorado and Florida, successfully preventing voters from being wrongly removed from the voter rolls. As Governor, he’ll work to ensure that elections are contests that reflect the will of the people, not just party bosses or insiders. He’ll also work to make sure that citizens don’t have their rights to vote wrongly taken away.


Shortly after the horrific mass murder in a Charleston church, Jim took some time off to travel down south with his daughter Abby. In visits to Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, they saw the sacrifice that went into ensuring that the franchise was extended to all people. We know that in this country, it has been a battle for some communities just to have their voices heard in the democratic process. New Jersey is the site of one of the most famous instances of voter suppression in American history. In the 1980s, a court found that the Republican National Committee unlawfully interrogated and challenged registered black and Hispanic voters before kicking them off the voting rolls. We cannot go back to those times. We need to work to ensure that hard-won voting rights are not rolled back and that we continue to ensure that communities who have been targeted for voter suppression in the past are protected. As Governor, Jim will support the following initiatives to protect and expand voting rights:

  • Access to Weekend Early Voting. Early voting has been shown to increase turnout. According to Professor Elliott Fullmer of Randolph-Macon College, “Early voting doesincrease participation. In order to do so, however, it must be widely accessible.” With turnout reaching a record low of 39.6% in the 2013 governor’s race in New Jersey, it’s clear that we need to make it easier for people to vote. Early voting, especially on the weekends, also helps those who are working parents or who work jobs with odd hours. Implementing early voting will help ensure that the voice of every New Jerseyan is heard.
  • Online Voter Registration. Online voter registration would have many positive effects. First, it would improve voter roll accuracy, as an online registration system cuts out illegible handwriting and duplicative data entry. It would also save taxpayers money, with states that have implemented online voter registration reporting anywhere from 25 cents to $2 of savings per online registration submitted. Finally, it would increase access to voter registration, helping to bring eligible Americans who have not yet registered into the political process.
  • Automatic Voter Registration. When New Jersey citizens turn 18, they should automatically be registered to vote. We should make it as easy as possible for people to exercise their rights and registering citizens unless they decline would be a great step in that direction. Automatic voter registration would be a powerful tool to eliminate registration errors and make it more difficult to commit voter fraud. Most importantly, it would bring down barriers to the right to vote and increase turnout. Jonathan Brater of the Brennan Center for Justice has said, “It’s one of the biggest things you could do to boost participation nationwide.” Unfortunately, Gov. Christie vetoed a bill that would have instituted the policy in New Jersey three times. As Governor, Jim will ensure that it passes once again and he will sign it.
  • Same-Day Voter Registration. One final step New Jersey could take to make sure all eligible voters can participate is to allow same-day voter registration. Scientific studies have shown that allowing registration on Election Day is one of the key ways that we can increase voter participation and ensure all eligible voices are heard.
  • Fight Against Voter Intimidation. In New Jersey, there is a long history of attempts to suppress voters. In 1982, a federal court handed down a consent decree in regards to allegations that Republicans attempted to suppress minority votes in New Jersey. As Governor, Jim would ban any intimidation, threats, or coercion to prevent the casting of a free and secret ballot. He would also ban any attempts to implement deceptive voting practices in specific districts that target a specific racial or ethnic group for voting suppression.


New Jersey’s election process is suffering from an influx of unprecedented amounts of “dark money.” Dark money comes from political action committees that don’t have to disclose the names of their donors and are not subject to contribution limits. In 2016, these independent groups spent $28 million, according an analysis by New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission. That’s SEVEN TIMES as much money as was spent by the state political parties and legislative leadership committees. These secret high-dollar donors need to be held accountable for their attempts to influence elections through massive spending. Jim will seek to pass legislation that mandates the disclosure of names and employers for all donors to dark money groups. That way, millionaires and billionaires will no longer be able to influence elections while hiding in the shadows. That’s why our campaign is working through the public finance system, which limits campaign spending to $6.4 million. Jim has also called on his opponents to agree to a $15 million spending cap for the Democratic primary election.


New Jersey also needs to do work to ensure that elections take place on an even playing field. For more people to get involved in the political process, Jim will ensure that people don’t feel elections are stacked against them. Currently, New Jersey gives priority ballot position to certain candidates that receive the backing of party insiders. New Jersey should join the majority of states that design ballots so that every candidate has an equal shot. That’s why Jim would eliminate ballot lines that place a preferred candidate on top and call for ballots to be created either by random drawing or with names listed in alphabetical order. These reforms will result in a stronger democracy with more viable candidates and more competition in elections.

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