By Briana Vannozzi
Every time you make a political donation or a candidate raises campaign cash, there’s a watchdog monitoring. Known as ELEC, the Election Law Enforcement Commission oversees campaign financing for every election in the state. But for the last five months its board of commissioners, which punishes violators, has been unable to meet.
“And that’s not only unprecedented, it’s terribly unfortunate. In a very real way it’s a betrayal of the public trust. We count on the Election Law Enforcement Commission, all of us as citizens, because it deals with the heart of campaign finance,” said Seton Hall University Professor of Law Paula A. Franzese.
Three out of the four seats on the board are vacant. And because the commission needs at least two members to hold a quorum, the sole member has been left waiting on the sidelines. Instead of meeting agendas, members of the press are receiving cancellation notices month after month after month. Franzese is a former member and chair of the commission. She praised the office for continuing its work despite the impasse.
“ELEC without its commissioners meeting regularly is compromised in that essential mission. That shouldn’t be. I don’t understand as a citizen why it is that it has taken the governor’s office this long to fill those vacancies,” she said.
It’s up to the governor’s office, with the advice and consent of the state Senate, to make the appointments. Historically speaking the board has been non-partisan — two Democrats and two Republicans. But with political gridlock in Trenton becoming the new norm, both sides have been pointing fingers in the other direction.
“Your campaign finance laws are only as good as your enforcement and your enforcement will depend entirely on commissioners or officials on the enforcement agency,” said Campaign Legal Center Deputy Executive Director Tara Malloy.
Malloy represents the Campaign Legal Center, a pro campaign finance reform organization based in Washington D.C. She says it’s not an atypical situation. In a sense, the agencies are created by the officials who are then subject to the laws.
“You have, quite literally, the fox caught in the hen house and you’re left with office holders self policing and whenever you have a situation of self policing you’re going to have conflicts on interest,” she said.
“Where the real impact is, is the fact that we cannot issue a final decision, you know, issuing fines to those that violate the campaign act,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeffrey Brindle.
But ELEC’s executive director says once the commissioners are appointed, those jurisdictions can be carried out, hopefully in time for the fall election.