Sweeney: New Jersey union tried to extort lawmakers

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New Jersey's Senate president is accusing the state's largest teacher's union of threatening to withhold political contributions. (WPVI)

New Jersey's Senate president is accusing the state's largest teacher's union of threatening to withhold political contributions in exchange for a vote on requiring quarterly pension payments.

Leaders of the New Jersey Education Association called Democratic county chairmen and threatened to withhold political contributions unless the Senate passes a proposed amendment ramping up pension payments by the state, Democrat Steve Sweeney said Wednesday.

Sweeney, a Democrat, also called on the U.S. attorney and New Jersey attorney general to investigate the union's action as criminal.

"These threats clearly cross the line from lobbying to attempted bribery and conspiracy," Sweeney said.

The NJEA said in a statement it did nothing illegal and Sweeney broke a promise to pass the amendment.

"Elected officials know that our members will not allow NJEA to support candidates who do not support their priorities," spokesman Steve Baker said in a statement.

Sweeney, an executive with the ironworkers union and possible gubernatorial candidate, called the action "intolerable."

The Senate president's comments were an unexpected attack on the an influential union in New Jersey politics, which last year directed more than $3 million to groups to help the Democrats grow their majority in the Assembly.

The union has been critical of Sweeney for delaying a vote on the pension amendment. Sweeney says it would be irresponsible to vote on that when it's unclear how big a budget hole a separate measure to pay for transportation would create.

The proposal must be passed this week to get on the ballot.
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