N.J. considers allowing advertisements on its government websites

Mar 12, 2019

New Jersey’s perennial quest to find new sources of revenue has returned to a familiar idea: selling ads on state government websites.

A proposal in the state Legislature would allow the New Jersey Lottery and the state Economic Development Authority to sell ad space on their sites to raise money for the state budget.

“We struggle with funds as a state being dedicated and not having enough money in the till,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Similar bills have passed the full Assembly in previous sessions, but they later stalled in the state Senate. The pilot program would last three years — and it could expand to other state agencies if it is successful, lawmakers said.

But opponents predicted the move could confuse residents and open the state up to public corruption.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, said that people may assume the state supported, for example, a political candidate who had an ad on a public website — even though the legislation would require disclaimers.

“I don’t care what the disclaimer on the bottom [of the website] looks like,” Carroll said. “A political ad on a state website does look an awful lot like an endorsement.”

Lauren James-Weir, an attorney at Gibbons who represents the New Jersey Press Association, said bad actors may try to curry favor with state officials by buying up lots of ads.

“You could imagine a situation where an entity purchases advertisements on the website in an effort to have the agency look the other way or give favorable treatment or not investigate a certain company,” James-Weir said.

The legislation passed the Assembly State and Local Government Committee Monday. An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate.