The ruthlessness and cynicism of Gov. Murphy and the majority of Democrats in the legislature are breathtaking.
How ruthless? The legislature passed and Murphy signed into law the “Elections Transparency Act,” which will permit Murphy to undercut the independence of the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) by unilaterally appointing the four commissioners, who will then pick a new executive director. As (former) ELEC Commissioner Stephen Holden said: “it’s clear that the executive branch wants to control what ELEC does,” according to Politico. This looks very much like the end of an independent ELEC.
How ruthless? On top of that, ELEC’s power to pursue election law violations will be severely degraded. That’s because the new law will cut the statue of limitation to pursue election law violations to two years, which is far shorter than typical ELEC enforcement actions. Tellingly, the law will retroactively render about 80% of ELEC’s on-going investigations invalid, including a significant case resulting from 2017 — the year of Murphy’s first election campaign — which has alleged $1.1 million in campaign spending violations by three major Democrat PACs (and a much smaller one by Republicans), according to the New Jersey Globe.
How cynical? Jay Lassiter of InsiderNJ said it best: because of the Orwellian-named Elections Transparency Act “New Jersey politics will be more corrupt and less transparent ...”
Rather than dutifully place their heads on Murphy’s chopping block, all three existing ELEC commissioners — two Democrats and a Republican — resigned. In his resignation letter, (former) ELEC chairman Eric Jaso was explicit in his condemnation of Murphy, per the Globe:
“This ill-advised legislation … at least undermines and at worst destroys ELEC’s hard-earned public perception of independence, transparency and freedom from political influence.”
“Because you have used political blunt force to neuter and co-opt this venerable and honorable agency, I can no longer faithfully serve the purposes the Legislature originally intended. Accordingly, I hereby resign, effective immediately.”
For his part, Brindle is suing the Murphy administration, contending that they were illegally trying to force him from office because of the strong stance Brindle has taken against dark money in New Jersey politics. Murphy is of course the king of dark-money Super PACs, which are the preferred spending vehicle for deep-pocketed special interests like the NJEA, Murphy’s biggest political supporter. Indeed, Murphy’s actions have widely been characterized as political payback — and even a “personal vendetta” — against Brindle.
As has been the case all along, the public outcry against weakening ELEC has been bipartisan and near-unanimous. But Murphy and the majority of Democrats in the legislature apparently don’t care. Murphy gets to take out Brindle — and with him the focus on dark money — and the Democratic legislators get to wipe out 80% of current investigations, including the big 2017 case against the Democrats. How convenient.
Breathtakingly ruthless and cynical, or, as Bergen Record commentator Charlie Stile said, “New Jersey politics at their worst.”