The following editorial by Senator Samuel Thompson (R-12) on the urgent need to fill vacancies on the Election Law Enforcement Commission board and preserve the public’s trust in the political process was published in The Record on August 25, 2016.
Sen. Thompson’s editorial covers the urgent need to fill ELEC board vacancies and preserve the public’s trust in government and the political process. (iStock)
In just over a year, New Jersey voters will decide who will become the next governor and weigh in on a number of other high-profile state and local elections. Unless swift action is taken, the political organizations and lobbyists who control millions of campaign dollars spent to secure those seats may go unregulated. In turn, those who squander or try to hide donations may never be held accountable for their crimes.
The Election Law Enforcement Commission is charged with the critical mission of regulating all campaign financing of state and local elections. Without a fully-operational board, ELEC cannot hold hearings or fully investigate violations of New Jersey’s stringent campaign finance laws.
Three out of the four seats on the ELEC board are still vacant and the agency is woefully understaffed. The resulting backlog of cases has delayed hearings for notorious fundraisers who have shown no qualms about violating the public’s trust in the political process.
In 2013, I filed complaints against three PACs that funnel an enormous amount of money into campaigns statewide. All three are run by Ray Ferraioli, a fundraiser at the center of several ongoing ELEC investigations.
One of these investigations led ELEC to file a 15-count complaint against the Good Government & Leadership” PAC, one of the three PACS spearheaded by Ferraioli.
According to the 2015 ELEC report, Ferraioli failed to report or filed late reports on campaign contributions to that PAC totaling more than $28,000 in donations and nearly $23,000 in expenditures related to the 2013 elections funded by the PAC.
Although these complaints were filed almost three years ago, ELEC has yet to hold a hearing due to the vacancies on its board of commissioners. To date, ELEC has filed 78 counts against the three PACs run by Ferraioli: Good Government & Leadership, HPC Statewide; and Good Government.
Given these reports, is it any wonder that many voters in this state have begun to lose faith in the political process? If the public can’t even trust in the integrity of a campaign, how can we expect it to trust that the officials who assume elected office will truly represent the best interest of all New Jersey taxpayers?
The ELEC board of commissioners has not held a meeting in more than five months – the longest the board has gone without meeting since its founding more than 40 years ago.
We cannot allow partisan politics to prevent ELEC from carrying out its core mission of defending the public’s interest in the political process and ensuring those who break campaign finance laws do not go unpunished. It is essential that we fill these vacancies as soon as possible.
Senate Democrats are apparently considering potential ELEC board nominees, and the governor’s office has stated that Governor Christie is ready and willing to consider any nominees the Legislature puts forward. If this is true, I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to take immediate action. With so many pending ELEC hearings, why should we wait a moment longer?
The vacancies on the ELEC board are only part of the problem. Without enough state funding, the backlog of cases will continue to snowball, preventing the ELEC from holding hearings and delivering swift justice to offenders.
That’s exactly why I have long-advocated not only for filling vacancies, but also for providing the ELEC with enough funding for staffing and operations.
For several years, I sponsored a budget resolution to provide ELEC with an additional $2 million to upgrade computers on the verge of crashing. Finally, Democrats joined me in seeing the need to help ELEC by including these funds in the 2014 budget.
This year, I submitted another budget resolution calling for an $857,000 increase in ELEC enforcement staffing. It was blocked by Democrats and not included in the governor’s final budget. I will continue to advocate for increased funding for ELEC, as I have done in state budgets dating back to 2012, until the agency has the resources it needs to operate efficiently.
We cannot allow campaign operatives and super PACs that may have already broken the law to skate through another election cycle unchecked. It is time for the Legislature to stop tying the hands of the ELEC and uphold one of the most important regulatory institutions in this state.
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