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NJ Senate Dems Fail to Close Corporate Lobbyist Secrecy Loopholes

Dems Take a Pass on Stronger Corporate Accountablity Measures

[Update – I just received a letter from Senator Weinberg stating that the bill will be held until this fall and requesting constructive input from all interested stakeholders by August 15, 2012 – we’ll keep you posted. ]

Important End Note]

It is amazing that President Obama can disclose White House visitor logs, but a Democratic Legislature will not force Governor Christie’s DEP Commissioner to disclose his meetings with chemical industry lobbyists.

Just amazing.  ~~~~ Bill Wolfe, Director, NJ PEER

I am just disgusted right now.

I wrote last week about proposed legislation (S1452) that purportedly would reform and update the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to provide more public access and strengthen transparency  – at least according to the sponsors (see: Does The Public’s Right-To-Know Include Meetings Between Corporate Lobbyist And DEP?

Knowing how to play the Trenton inside legislative game, as a followup to that press conference, having gotten Senator Weinberg’s conceptual support and a request by her staff to suggest amendments, I contacted Weinberg’s district office and legislative aid. I also reached out to Senate Majority Office and co-sponsors and other progressive Dems I have worked with.

Committee Substitute bill was released yesterday by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee without recommendation and moves to the Senate. The lack of recommendation suggests that the bill is vulnerable, despite Senate President Sweeney’s support.

Well, I just read the substitute and will briefly note why I am so disgusted.

First of all, the bill includes a new and broader definition of “deliberative material” that is exempted from OPRA. This makes it easier for State agencies – like DEP – to keep embarrassing public information secret. That reduces transparency, not increases it.

Second, the bill amends the definition of “government record” to include a new provision targeted at RGGI allowances – RGGI is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

RGGI is no longer operating in NJ, because Governor Christie has pulled NJ out of the program.

RGGI has come under attack by global warming denying, government bashing, right wingnuts, in part on the basis that RGGI records are not subject to OPRA.

I have no problem with making RGGI records being subject to OPRA – that is a good idea.

But what I do have a problem with is what this amendment reveals about who has influence and who so called progressive Democratic Senators are listening to.

I am disgusted by the fact that government bashing libertarians and global warming denying  Koch Brothers funded right wingnuts like Steve Lonegan at Americans for Prosperity have greater influence on NJ’s progressive democrats than those like myself who seek corporate accountability.

Steve Lonegan and company got their RGGI amendments – but I did not get the corporate secrecy loophole amendments I requested.

As I just wrote to Senators Weinberg, Greenstein, and Buono:

It is amazing that President Obama can disclose White House visitor logs, but a Democratic Legislature will not force Governor Christie’s DEP Commissioner to disclose his meetings with chemical industry lobbyists.

Just amazing.

For the wonks out there, here is the background information and analysis.

DEP has used deliberative, executive, and privacy exemptions to deny meeting logs and calendars.

Here is an excerpt from the Christie Administration DEP denial on the privacy aspects of the issue:

“Disclosure of the Commissioner’s schedule and the schedules of Department staff also implicates privacy interests of the people with whom public officials meet. See Smith, supra, citing Gannett N.J. Partners, LP v. County of Middlesex, 379 N.J. Super. 205 (2005) and North Jersey Newspapers Company v. Passaic County Board of Freeholders, 127 N.J. 9, 16-18 (1992)(the requested schedule of the Commissioner is exempt from public access on the basis that it implicates privacy interests of persons who meet with public officials and is protected by executive privilege).”

For Full DEP denial decision, see this for OPRA:


See also:

1. NEW JERSEY DOES ITS ENVIRONMENTAL BUSINESS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS— State Claims “Executive Privilege” to Shield Meeting Logs; Petition Filed

2. WILL NEW JERSEY OPEN UP ENVIRONMENTAL DECISION-MAKING? — Corzine Denial of DEP Transparency Rules Creates Opportunity for Christie

3. COURT ORDERS RELEASE OF NEW JERSEY SCIENCE BOARD NOMINEES — Successful Open Records Suit to Reveal Industry Sponsorship of Science Board Picks

[End Note: Let me just give you an example of how lame these so called bold reforms are.

At the Weinberg/Sweeney press conference last week, open government advocates spoke in favor of the bill and praised Weinberg’s leadership.

Attorney for North Jersey media speaks at press conference in support of Weinberg OPRA bill

A lawyer representing North Jersey Media (Bergen Record et al) spoke. She used documents as an example of her bold efforts to use OPRA to hold government accountable and explain why the Weinberg bill was such a strong reform measure and would enhance transparency.

As an example, she waved a document with multiple redactions. Oh, I thought, here comes a juicy story of government secrecy! Those redactions must be hiding scandal!

Sure enough, this lawyer bragged about her diligent efforts –  “four phone calls to the Governor’s Office” to get to the bottom of these secret redactions.

Remarkably, jus like my experience, State government agency redacted and denied information on the basis that there were “privacy” interests at stake. Oh, this is too good, I thought!

Well, it turns out that the redactions were merely the office phone numbers of each state agency OPRA contact person!


With media watchdog lawyers like that, we know we’re in good hands! (snark).

In the meantime, I’m trying to get records that show how the chemical industry is killing air and water pollution standards for toxic chemicals.

How polluters are privately negotiating deals behind closed DEP doors that eliminate millions of dollars in enforcement fines.

No wonder Senate Dems took a pass – they do those same DEP meetings and get support from the same corporate lobbyists.

And even their key staff (Senate Secretary) are hostile to open government.

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  1. Tom McKee
    June 22nd, 2012 at 23:13 | #1

    Thanks for taking on this important issue. As Paul Krugman pointed out in today’s piece on Christie’s half way houses to hell, we are in “… a pervasive and growing reality, of a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.


    Regulatory capture, legislative capture and financial capture of the government by corporations is advancing unimpeded. It will move even faster once they shut what sunshine laws we have left.

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