Jeff Brindle is the NJELEC executive director who recently waded into partisan political campaigns in two legislative districts. Brindle posted a column on David Wildstein's old website, Observer.com (formerly PolitickerNJ.com, AKA PoliticsNJ.com) which was quickly picked-up by Wally Edge alumnus Matt Friedman over at Politico.
For the record, here is what Wally Edge wrote about Jeff Brindle at the time of his appointment:
Brindle was active in Republican politics before taking a post at ELEC. He worked as a political consultant in the 1970's, served as New Brunswick GOP Municipal Chairman, worked on the legislative staffs of State Sen. John Ewing and Assemblymen Walter Kavanaugh and Elliot Smith, and as Deputy Somerset County Clerk. He was the Republican candidate for State Assembly in the 17th district in 1977, but lost the general election to Democrats David Schwartz and Joseph Patero. He joined state government after Thomas Kean's election as Governor and was the Communications Director at the Department of Community Affairs from 1982 to 1985.
Old Wally knew his stuff. By-the-way, did you catch the name of Brindle's political godfather?
For someone who is supposed to be a fair-dealer in these matters, Brindle's tone and language in his Observer column is in marked contrast to what he employed in the past. For instance, when commenting in 2015 on the more than $3 million raised by a SuperPAC named the General Majority PAC, Brindle was positively sanguine about it: "Usually, an election with just Assembly candidates on the ballot is a low-key affair. But the involvement of the independent committees is definitely adding some drama this year."
"Drama," is it? Well compare that with Brindle's breathless -- and deeply subjective -- alarm in Thursday's Observer column:
"The active participation of Stronger Foundations Inc. in the Republican primaries in the 24th and 26th legislative districts is a fresh example of why legislation needs to be enacted to require registration and disclosure by independent groups.
The group has spent $275,100 on these primary races in North Jersey, but the public knows very little about where the money is going or what the group’s agenda is."
As opposed to what? The General Majority PAC?
We know that "this group" spent $275,000 on two primary races in New Jersey., which Brindle, using the group's disclosures with NJELEC, was able to break down. From these disclosures, Brindle was able to discover that the money was being spent on advertising and polling, as well as who was behind the group and why it was organized:
"To its credit, Stronger Foundations Inc. filed independent expenditure reports with ELEC, showing it had spent $63,300 in the 24th district and $211,800 in the 26th district as of May 25.
Among the information the public can glean from Stronger Foundations expenditure reports is that that the group is working with MWW Group, a highly regarded public relations firm, and McLaughlin and Associates, a nationally respected polling firm.
...A Google search did indicate that the person who registered on behalf of the group is employed by International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 in Springfield. The union helped spear-head last year’s successful efforts to raise the state gas tax and enact a new long-range transportation improvement plan. It’s political action committee also is a top contributor to New Jersey campaigns."
Brindle then writes this most curious sentence:
"A voter reading the independent expenditure reports filed by Stronger Foundation Inc. wouldn’t know any of this."
Well hell, has he seen what information is required by NJELEC to file a political action committee subject to full disclosure? To find out anything really useful about the mission or policies or current political goals of any organization subject to full disclosure by NJELEC, you would have to use Google and find the group's website or news articles written about it.
At present, NJELEC requires only the vaguest information be disclosed by political action committees and those filing an A-3 are required to disclose practically nothing at all. As weak as the NJELEC's D-4 PAC registration form is to start with, it soon becomes useless as an organization grows, adds or removes leadership, or changes its direction. Why isn't the D-4 required yearly? Without a yearly D-4, even for basic information, any voter would have to consult Google.
And yet, knowing this, Brindle bangs on and on about "the group" painting an ever-darkening picture of what is -- at the final accounting -- perfectly LEGAL behavior that has been codified as such by the UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT.
Writing as one might about gay marriage, Brindle employs phrases to give the impression that something very bad is going on when, in fact, it is perfectly legal and has been ruled so by the highest Court in the land:
Let's start with the headline: "Mystery Spender on NJ Races Again Shows Need for More Disclosure."
"...the public knows very little about where the money is going or what the group’s agenda is." Under NJELEC's weak rules, they never do.
"These groups do have a First Amendment right to be engaged in the electoral process and spend unlimited sums. That much is clear. At the same time, the public has a right to know who is behind the group and what it stands for." That is Brindle's opinion (and we agree) but unfortunately, neither NJELEC or, more importantly, the United States Supreme Court appear to agree with us. And, as Brindle works for NJELEC (and it follows federal law, we assume), why is he painting this nefarious picture?
"Political parties, candidates and political action committees are subject to registration and disclosure requirements. Why shouldn’t the same guidelines apply to these groups?" Brindle knows darn well why -- the Supreme Court said so. Besides which, Brindle's NJELEC "registration and disclosure" requirements are a joke and are out-of-date.
"...If they finance advertisements that do not specifically call for the support or opposition to a candidate in their communications, there is no filing requirement at all. And anyone familiar with the process knows it is easy for high-powered operatives to finesse the language and avoid reporting." Once again, Brindle full well knows that this is federal law. As for finessing language, that is precisely what he is doing here.
"Disclosure is important because independent groups can become surrogates for candidates they support, undertake harsh attacks against the opponent, and do so with no accountability." Yes, we agree, but -- once again -- no law made in New Jersey will overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision. So, why are you writing as though it would? Simply to paint a nefarious picture?
"At the same time, the candidate who benefits from the independent spending can claim to have no association with the group, thereby not being accountable for its activities." Now this shows Brindle to be something of an accomplished liar. He darn well should know that it is illegal for a candidate to have an "association" with such a group.
"Because it is the mission of the Election Law Enforcement Commission to bring disclosure of campaign finance information to the public, the staff often will dig more deeply into these organizations to ascertain where its support comes from. When that information can be obtained, ELEC makes the information available to the public." So NJELEC is doing opposition research on groups operating legally under the Constitution of the United States of America? Why? Because E.D. Brindle thinks the law is wrong and so a little spying is in order? And you are using taxpayers' money for this?
"The public, however, does not have the time nor inclination to investigate these groups and therefore is often robbed of the opportunity to make informed opinions about a group’s motives or even the veracity of its message." Maybe they don't care about it in precisely the way E.D. Brindle does -- or whoever put him up to writing this obvious hit piece. In any case, it is NJELEC Brindle's "motives" that are at question here because, after all, they are taxpayer-funded.
"This is why it is important for the Legislature to pass legislation that would bring greater transparency to the process by requiring registration and disclosure by independent groups. Both parties have introduced bills to bring about more disclosure." Yes, we agree, start with an annual D-4 for those who currently do disclose and then fashion legislation that will pass Constitutional muster. Don't spend a lot of taxpayers' money and waste a lot of taxpayer-paid staff's time only to have your law chucked out by a federal court. If your staff have so much free time on their hands, cut some and save the taxpayers some money.
"...If the primary figure is any guide, these largely anonymous groups will once again dominate the general election at the expense of more accountable political parties and candidates. It is long past time for matters to be set right in New Jersey by bringing balance back to the electoral system, by strengthening the political parties, requiring registration and disclosure by independent groups, and offsetting the growing influence of organizations that would often operate anonymously." This is coming from the man who, in 2015, dismissed this as little more than "drama"? What's changed?
What this is, is a hit piece, written by a political consultant turned career bureaucrat with a mentor named Tom Kean. It was a disgraceful act for NJELEC's executive director to wade into partisan political campaigns the weekend before an election and offer his words in a way he knew or should have known would have an outcome on that election.
Jeff Brindle is himself an undisclosed independent expenditure. We cannot be sure who put him up to this. What we can be sure of is that he should go, for so long as he is at the head of NJELEC its veracity is in question and its trustworthiness is shit.