TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – New Jersey lawmakers worked into the night Monday to defeat legislation that has been billed as an attempt by the scandal-rocked Gov. Chris Christie to exact revenge on the media.
Dubbed “newspaper revenge,” the bill would have repealed state laws that require newspapers to publish the budgets, tax liens, sheriff’s sales, foreclosures and other public notices.
Its sponsorship arose at a particularly tough patch publicity-wise for Christie, a onetime a rising star in the GOP who saw his presidential aspirations dashed on the rocks of the 2013 Bridgegate scandal – lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that Christie’s office orchestrated for political retribution.
Phil Murphy, a Democrat who will run to succeed Christie as governor next year, said in a statement last week that the bill is about “punishing perceived enemies and stifling a free press.” Murphy also railed against the passage of legislation out of committee last week that would let Christie profit from writing a book while in office and grant sizeable raises to government staffers.
Christie – who has sparred with media outlets over negative coverage in recent months – has vowed to sign the bill into law quickly if it reaches his desk.
Still nursing his ejection from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition committee, Christie sparred over the weekend on Twitter with some old adversaries from the Bridgegate case.
“Sens. Weinberg and Gordon would rather have citizens pay $80m per year for paper ads than post for free on the web?” Christie wrote. “Welcome to the 21st cent.”
A majority leader of the New Jersey Senate, Loretta Weinberg had tweeted previously that the bill was clear “revenge on the press” over the Bridgegate coverage.
Media companies have complained the bill would cause newspapers, already crushed by dropping advertisement revenue, to slash hundreds of jobs. Some publications said they might have to close completely due to the lost revenue, much of which comes from banks publishing home foreclosures and auctions.
But Christie wrote in a recent op-ed that the measure “saves money” and will reduce property taxes, noting that the average cost of publishing a legal notice in a newspaper was $910.
Christie called the New Jersey Press Association’s opposition of the legislation “scare tactics by their paid Trenton lobbyists designed to protect the interests of newspaper companies who argue for a free press, but [who] are really arguing for taxpayer funded subsidy in disguise.”
Media companies that railed against the legislation during testimony before the New Jersey Senate were quickly shut down. The bill unanimously passed out of committee along with the book-profit legislation.
Proponents of the legal-notice bill, including its sponsor Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan, have said the move online by most media companies has made publication of notices in hard-copy newspapers redundant and outdated. The Christie administration has claimed more than $80 million annually is spent on publishing public notices in newspapers. Whelan co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Michael Doherty, a Republican.
After the vote, Christie’s office said in a statement that the public notice legislation was similar to a bill in 2004, asking “why would any legislator who voted for this in 2004 oppose it today?”
The New Jersey assembly called a vote on the newspaper bill early Monday, but pushback from media outlets and other critics led to last-minute changes to the bill.
Late Monday, however, the bill had been pulled from Assembly consideration.