By Claire Heininger
June 7, 2010

TRENTON — With Gov. Chris Christie staking his political fortunes on property tax reform, a new group backed by Republican heavy-hitters and some of the governor’s closest allies today began airing radio ads on behalf of his plan.

The first ad paid for by “Reform Jersey Now” — whose advisory board includes Christie confidante Bill Palatucci and GOP former Govs. Christie Whitman and Donald DiFrancesco — targets Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) over Christie’s “Cap 2.5” proposal. The Republican governor is urging the Democrat-controlled Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall that would limit annual property tax increases to 2.5 percent.
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Democrats immediately criticized the new group as an “end run around election laws” at odds with Christie’s claims of reform.

The ad asks residents to call Oliver’s office and ask her to post the measure for a vote. Oliver said the Assembly will hold a special session this summer to consider Christie’s plans.

“We will examine the governor’s plan when it can get the full attention it deserves — not during these crucial days” of budget negotiations, Oliver said today. Her office received five calls on the cap, said Tom Hester Jr., her spokesman.

Mike DuHaime, chief strategist on Christie’s gubernatorial campaign and a spokesman for the group, said the first ad buy cost about $35,000 and will run indefinitely. He said the group will also back Christie’s “long-term” agenda on other issues, including education reforms and tax cuts.

As a 501(c)(4) organization, the group is not required to publicly disclose its donors. DuHaime said it will voluntarily disclose donor information to state and federal regulators at least once a year, but declined to say when that would begin.

He said the group can accept unlimited contributions and will not restrict them based on New Jersey’s pay-to-play laws, which ban those with state contracts worth more than $17,500 from donating more than $300 to statewide campaigns. “We’re going to fully disclose, so people can make their own judgment on it,” DuHaime said.

Heather Taylor, spokeswoman for the Citizens Campaign, which promotes pay-to-play limits, said the group should refuse money from state contractors who view it as a “backdoor” way to “curry favor with the governor.” Democratic state chairman John Wisniewski agreed and said it was “rank hypocrisy” by Christie, who has said he wants to strenghthen New Jersey’s campaign finance restrictions.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak declined to comment.