May 2018 Annual Meeting
effrey M. Brindle, Executive Director, Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC)
The Challenge of Campaign Financing Regulation in the 21st Century
Report of Annual Meeting 2018
Sandy Smith convened the business meeting with highlights from 2018. We have eight new members and a Facebook page. Our focus on Voter Service resulted in three forums, the publishing of fourteen races on VOTE411, the creation of a Speakers’ Bureau, and the registration of 700 voters, most of them high school students, in drives organized by Harriet Warner. For advocacy, we co-sponsored March for Our Lives in Princeton and participated in the Women’s March on NJ.
Members then approved, without comment, the Princeton League positions, budget (see Members Only page for link), and Leadership Committee. Lee Forbes, who worked on the LWV-Princeton Area Bylaws, acknowledged the leadership of Jennifer Howard and contributions of Sandy Shapiro and explained that the revisions were needed to comply with LWVUS and to reflect the structure LWV-Princeton Area currently uses. The bylaws were approved. Because they require that a Nominating Committee be voted on at the Annual Meeting, the names of Sandy Smith, Chrystal Schivell, and Jeanne Turner were put forward and approved. The above documents and the dates of the next meetings were emailed to members and are posted on the League’s website.
In introducing the speaker, Ingrid Reed noted that the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), which was created 35 years ago, is comprised of two Democrats and two Republicans appointed by the governor. If the governor fails to appoint, the commission is somewhat handicapped. The executive director must deal with this issue as well as seek funding from the legislature in order to carry out his charge to enforce election law.
After thanking Ingrid and the League, Jeffrey Brindle said that since becoming Executive Director of ELEC a few years ago, he has been pushing for reforms that would strengthen political parties, reform pay-to-play, and require registration and disclosure by independent groups. He acknowledged the efforts of Represent Us in getting municipalities to pass resolutions supporting ELEC’s proposals. He also noted the support of state legislators that has resulted in the Singleton/Zwicker bills.
Mr. Brindle contends that we can’t get money out of politics, although he and others might like to. The problem now is that money is flowing to PAC’s and independent, special interest groups. His solution is to see that money goes to organizations that are accountable. And it is the political parties that already are heavily regulated under NJ statutes and must disclose their financial activities. Parties also provide a guide for voters who are unfamiliar with specific candidates but who trust the platform of their chosen party. Thus he proposes an electoral system that favors parties and candidates, not independent groups and PAC’s. He warned that independent groups are secretive, accountable to no one, and now dominate elections in NJ because they out-spend the parties – by as much as 4 to 1.
Perhaps anticipating that some audience members might argue that parties have a bad reputation and are not transparent, Mr. Brindle bolstered his thesis by pointing out that parties organize all levels of government and that, historically, strong party affiliation has been linked to high voter turnout. He contends that the rise in independent group activity in NJ and the accompanying decline in political parties may be contributing to NJ’s increasingly low voter turnout.
And in the animated and extended Q&A that followed his speech and didraise the issue of a bad reputation, Mr. Brindle suggested ways to make the parties more transparent: allow open primaries, restrict how parties use their money, and enact stricter laws regarding corruption.
Lee Forbes thanked Mr. Brindle and presented him with a token of the League’s appreciation.
DETAILS OF MR. BRINDLE’S SPEECH
In explaining why money that used to go to parties is now going to PAC’s and independent groups, Mr. Brindle warned that well-intentioned reforms can have unintended consequences. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act eliminated soft money to national parties with the result that the soft money went to less accountable independent groups. (Citizens United didn’t help.) Likewise, New Jersey’s 2006 pay-to-play law covered political parties and candidates but not PAC’s and independent groups. As a consequence, independent organizations and other special interest organizations have grown in influence, while parties, and even the candidates themselves have become weaker.
In explaining why he believes we can’t get money out of politics, Mr. Brindle turned to history. In the 1980’s, the political party system n NJ was very weak but not because there was less money in politics. The money was going to PAC’s and candidate-centered campaigns. In the 1990’s the Rosenthal Commission proposed bills that established contribution limits, formalized legislative leadership committees, brought about PAC registration and disclosure, and strengthened political parties. This rebirth of the parties continued until the 2006 pay-to-play law was enacted.
Mr. Brindle cited many statistics showing that, at all levels of government, parties are spending less than in the past while independent groups are spending more than the parties spend and are involving themselves even in school board races. In 2015, a Washington, D.C. Super PAC involved itself in Parsippany’s primary election, yet it’s unclear why. Mr. Brindle warns that, without change, single-issue, special interest groups will not only overwhelm political parties but also the campaigns of candidates themselves – with the danger that these special interest groups will influence policy decisions made by elected officials.
ELEC’s proposals, designed to bring common sense accountability to the electoral process, are:
- Disclosure of contributions and expenditures
- Tax credit for small contributions to parties and candidates
- Exclude parties from pay-to-play
- Increase contribution limits
- Allow parties to participate in gubernatorial campaigns
- Allow county parties to give to each other
- One state law
- All contracts over $17,500 disclosed
- End fair-and-open loophole
- Increase contractor donation to $1,000
- Include PAC’s under the law
- Contractor donations to independent groups disclosed
Mr. Brindle acknowledged the difficulty in making these proposals law. Many legislators lack the will to carry out reform.