Blowing the Whistle on the Pay-to-Play Game: Campaign Financing Reform in New Jersey, 1998-2012


In the late 1990s, civil society reformer Harry Pozycki began a grassroots campaign to eliminate pay to play, a form of influence buying whereby businesses donated money to New Jersey political parties and candidates in exchange for favorable consideration in the awarding of government contracts. Pay to play had plagued state politics for decades and raised the cost of public services. Pozycki pushed for enactment of contracting regulations at the state and local levels that would bar companies making campaign contributions from being awarded New Jersey government contracts. Although civic groups did make steady progress in winning public support for reform, the state legislature failed to pass regulations because both political parties relied heavily on donations from contractors to fund their electoral campaigns. But in 2004, outgoing Governor James E. McGreevey implemented the regulations by executive order, and his successor, Richard J. Codey, carried forward that momentum, thereby enacting a state law that made the regulations permanent. The state and local pay-to-play reforms ultimately required very little administrative cost and avoided legal complications related to free speech by their regulation of state contracts rather than of campaign financing. By 2006, New Jersey had one of the strongest anti-pay-to-play laws in the United States, and several other states followed its model. Under two successive governors, New Jersey continued to consider the legislation and make changes to it through the end of 2012. 

Rachel Jackson drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in New Jersey in mid-2012. Case published December 2012. 
Most ISS case studies chronicle reforms in detail and rest on large numbers of interviews. This publication is intended to provide an overview of implementation challenges and was informed by fewer interviews than other ISS case studies. 
elections campaign finance
government contracting
New Jersey
Focus Area(s)
Containing Patronage Pressures
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Institutional traps (spoilers)
Reducing capture
Country of Reform
United States
Case Studies
Rachel Jackson