State appeals court upholds ELEC's power to enforce N.J. campaign finance laws

Tuesday, 07 February 2012 15:41

justice121509_optCase stems from June GOP Morris County freeholder primary

A state appeals court has upheld the authority of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to enforce New Jersey’s campaign finance laws.

“We are delighted with the decision,’’ ELEC Director Jeff Brindle said Tuesday. “We felt all along that a recent Morris County election should not have been overturned based on alleged violations of campaign finance regulations.

“It is ELEC’s job to determine when such violations exist,” Brindle added. “Only in extremely rare instances does the agency have the ability to overturn an election. The appellate judges today clearly recognized these facts.”

When it intervened in the case, ELEC pointed out that the Legislature in 1993 gave the agency the power to make a candidate forfeit office only if it found that the candidate received at least $50,000 in illegal contributions and the violation had a significant impact on the outcome of the election. In its nearly 40-year history, ELEC has never invoked that section of the law.

Brindle said if a previous lower court ruling had not been overturned, “it would have subjected candidates and committees to inconsistent application of the Campaign Reporting Act in enforcement actions.’’ The director emphasized that while ELEC intervened in the case to uphold its statutory prerogatives, it did not take sides in the case.

On Sept. 13, state Superior Court Assignment Judge Thomas Weisenbeck in Morristown threw out the results of the June Republican primary election for Morris County freeholder in which challenger Hank Lyon won by six votes over incumbent Margaret Nordstrom.

In voiding the election results, Weisenbeck cited a contention made by Nordstrom’s attorney that Lyon’s father Robert Lyon violated campaign finance rules by making a $16,000 contribution to the campaign a week before the election that was not disclosed before the election.

In general under ELEC regulations, within 13 days of an election, candidates are required to disclose contributions of more than $1,200 within 48 hours of their receipt.

On Sept. 19, the Morris Republican Committee selected Nordstrom over Lyon in a 213-208 vote to fill the position. Nordstrom was subsequently elected to her fifth term after defeating a Democratic opponent in the November 8 general election.

The appellate overturned her election.