NJ ELEC needs to improve its service to the citizens of New Jersey
By Harold V. Kane
The print and electronic media have, since last September, shone a spotlight on the Middlesex County Democrats fundraising activities. The Democrats established a number of Political Action Committees designed to subvert the 2006 changes to the NJ election finance laws. The question arises-why did they think that they could get away with it, when all contributions are reported to the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission. One answer could be because of a flaw in the ELEC computer program. The ELEC program is, at best, difficult to use. However once persons making queries understands how the programs work, then they also determine that all contributions and expenditures are there, somewhere. Even the administrators/treasurers for the Democrat PACs dutifully complied with the reporting requirements.
The ELEC reporting program offers a category of “Simple Search by Contributor”. When a user clicks on this category a page opens that states: “The Simple Search will search the campaign finance database for a contributor to campaigns, Political Party Committees, Legislative Leadership Committees and Political Action Committees.” Except that it doesn’t!
The search program omits PACs. An example is Jay Cornell of CME Associates of Sayreville. Mr. Cornell is a prolific contributor to the Democrats. In a five year period (2007-2011) Mr. Cornell contributed $90,700 to various campaigns, party committees, and leadership committees. This is reported by ELEC when Mr. Cornell’s name is entered in the Simple Search. What is not reported is the $127,500 that he contributed to the Democrat-controlled PACs. This money was reported to ELEC by the receiving PACs. There is no illegality in any of these transactions.
The issue is transparency of reporting. The citizens have an expectation that government computer systems will work as advertised. The ELEC system was established for exactly this purpose. However the reporting of PAC contributions was either never part of the ELEC program or it was deleted from the program. Lack of diligence by the ELEC staff can easily explain the fact that the PAC reporting was never part of the software package purchased by ELEC or through human error the software was deleted. Even if human error was the culprit, the ELEC staff should able been able to determine this shortcoming through routine operational maintenance.
The other option is malfeasance. In this case someone saw an opportunity to, not hide contributions, but to make it as difficult as possible to ferret out the contributions. The ELEC reporting program is, at best, difficult to use. Concerned citizens trying to determine who is contributing what to whom can easily become frustrated with the ELEC system and give up.
An opportunist could have manipulated the ELEC reporting software to delete PACs from the Simple Search. In this way the Democrat-controlled PACs reined in over $1.7M and until last September no one, outside of the Democrat inner circle, knew anything about it.
NJ ELEC needs to improve its service to the citizens of New Jersey.
The ELEC search software needs to be simplified. An example is “Women for Good Government” A search for this PAC requires the searcher to know what type of PAC (ideological) that it is before a search will happen. This is unnecessary. The PAC title should be all that is required.
NJ ELEC needs to either upgrade the existing computer system or replace it with a modern system that will allow on-line reporting of contributions and simplified searches. ELEC also needs a scheduled maintenance and testing program of their systems to ensure that all programs work as advertised.
A few simple changes to operations can reassure that the NJ State Government and NJ ELEC in particular are doing what’s in the best interests of the citizens.