- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 14, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey’s election watchdog agency can again begin voting on punishments for campaign finance, lobbying and pay-to-play violations after going a year without meeting.

The state Senate on Monday confirmed two new members for the Election Law Enforcement Commission. The four-member panel has been down to just one member and unable to meet to vote on final judgments and fines.

Republican attorney and former prosecutor who once worked under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Eric Jaso, and Democrat and former Superior Court Judge Stephen Holden will join Republican Chairman Ronald DeFilippis on the board. Christie has named a fourth nominee, Democrat Marguerite Simon, but she has not been voted on, yet.

The commission has continued to conduct investigations, but at least three members are needed for final decisions to be made.

The vacancies have been filled as the state gears up for gubernatorial and legislative elections this fall.



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VACANCIES

The commission has been without a full complement since November 2011, when Lawrence Weiss, a Superior Court judge, died. Amos Saunders, also a Superior Court judge, died in August 2015, leaving the panel with only two members.

Christie and the Democrat-led Senate could not agree on successors, and those vacancies remained until 2016, when Christie tapped Commissioner Walter Timpone to serve on the Supreme Court. Timpone’s departure left the panel with only one member. The commission’s last meeting was March 2016.

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HIGH-PROFILE CASE

ELEC brought a case against powerful Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo in 2013 alleging that he improperly used campaign funds to help finance a trip to Puerto Rico. DiVincenzo, a Democrat, had been an ally of the governor, but an administrative law judge dismissed the case because the commission did not have a quorum.

Timpone had recused himself from the case before he departed for the Supreme Court. The commission had indicated it could revive the case after its membership was replenished.

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IN THE INTERIM

The commission’s staff continued to compile campaign spending and lobbying reports despite the lack of commissioners. A recent report, for example, showed groups pulling for a transportation infrastructure plan helped push New Jersey lobbying expenditures in 2016 to $68.3 million.

The commission usually makes headlines when it’s imposing a fine on a high-profile candidate. For example, former state Senator and 2013 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono was reprimanded and fined $1,600 in 2015 over a campaign account violation stemming from the campaign against Christie.

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