Election Law Enforcement Commission Meets for First Time in a Year

By Brenda Flanagan

New Jersey’s so-called election watchdog’s back on track, and none too soon. As the state barrels toward campaigns for the governor’s office and all 120 legislative seats, the Election Law Enforcement Commission (or ELEC) finally convened a quorum today. First task: approve the minutes from a year ago.

“Next, we’re going to be handling the approval of the public session minutes from March 15, 2016. Hard even to say,” said ELEC Chairman Ron DeFilippis.

“I almost forgot about those minutes, as a matter of fact,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle.

Amusing for Brindle, but vacancies on the four-member commission kept it sidelined for months until Gov. Chris Christie nominated replacements. Today, Eric Jaso and Stephen Holden joined chairman DeFilippis, while Christie’s final candidate Marguerite Simon looked on. She’s awaiting Senate confirmation.

“They couldn’t do the final official business that we require of the Election Law Enforcement Commission and that is enforcement,” said Ingrid Reed, former director of the New Jersey Project for the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics.

Reed says ELEC enforces campaign finance laws like the complaint it filed charging Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo with allegedly misspending tens of thousands of campaign dollars on items like clothing and trips. That case is now in court. Meanwhile, ELEC staff kept investigating other cases, but without a quorum.

“You couldn’t get to that end point of fining people. So in effect you were neutralized. You could collect a lot of numbers but then you couldn’t hold people responsible,” Reed said.

ELEC distributes public matching campaign funds. And today, it also awarded the rights to host four gubernatorial primary debates. NJTV News — in concert with NJ Spotlight — and Stockton University will each host a Republican and a Democratic debate, dates TBD.

“We’re in the Pinelands of South Jersey and that’s what we offer you: access for South Jersey people to be able to come and hear a debate,” said Hughes Center for Public Policy Executive Director Sharon Schulman.

“The idea is for this to be not only broadcast live in prime time, but also to be streamed on the web,” said NJTV News Executive Producer Phil Alongi.

ELEC urged both groups to consider sharing their live stream of the debates.

“I think that’s a whole new way of treating these debates and I think that’s wonderful news for us,” said NJ Spotlight CEO and Founding Editor John Mooney.

New Jersey’s Senate will meet in May, when it’s expected to confirm the fourth and last ELEC commission candidate — just in time for New Jersey’s June primary.