TRENTON--For the past year, the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission has been unable to meet.
With three of its four seats left unfilled in a behind-the-scenes political battle between Gov. Chris Christie and the senior Democratic leadership in the Senate, the watchdog agency could not muster a quorum and was forced to cancel every one of its monthly meetings since last March.
That impasse appears to have come to an end.
Christie on Monday nominated Democrat Marguerite Simon, a retired Bergen County Superior Court judge, to the commission. With two other pending nominations awaiting Senate approval as well, the appointments could return the election commission to its full strength for the first time since 2011.
In December, Christie nominated retired Camden County Superior Court Judge Stephen Holden, another Democrat, to the agency.
Also awaiting confirmation in the legislature is Republican Eric H. Jaso, a former federal prosecutor who worked under Christie when the governor was U.S. Attorney. His nomination has remained stalled for well over a year.
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With three of its four seats vacant, the chief authority in New Jersey responsible for regulating campaign fundraising, spending and campaign finance disclosure has been severely hobbled.
By law, the four-member commission cannot have any more than two members of the same party--historically two Democrats and two Republicans. But vacancies on the election watchdog agency unfilled for years by Christie has left the agency struggling to conduct business. One Democratic slot has been open since the death in 2011 of Lawrence Weiss, a Superior Court judge.
The lack of a quorum also left the commission unable to continue its enforcement case against Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo--a close friend and ally of the governor.
He had been accused of misusing thousands of dollars in campaign funds. At the time, former ELEC board member Walter Timpone, a Democrat, recused himself in the case because he once asked DiVincenzo to find a job for his nephew. Attorneys for the county executive argued that the lack of a bipartisan commission meant ELEC effectively could take no action in the matter. ELEC has gone to court in an effort to keep the DiVincenzo case alive.
After Timpone was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, ELEC had no Democrats and it stopped meeting altogether because it had no ability to take action on any election law complaint in the state.
Christie had blamed the inaction on the appointments on the Democratic leadership, who he said had failed to propose any Democrats to serve on the bipartisan board.
As late as September, Senate President Stephen Sweeney was still balking over giving a time frame for filling the vacancies on the board. But Holden was nominated by the governor in December and earlier this month, an accord was apparently reached, with Simon's name surfacing as a candidate.
The term of the current ELEC chairman and lone member of the commission, Ronald DeFilippis, a Republican, expired in 2013. He continues as a holdover appointment.
Ted Sherman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Facebook: @TedSherman.reporter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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