Comments to ELEC

Comments made at this morning’s monthly meeting of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Sometimes being the State Capitol is a good thing; a statewide commission like ELEC is only 5 minutes away!

Good Morning –

As you today note the recent completion of the state election cycle at the beginning of this month, I would like to draw your attention to an outstanding case of local non-compliance with ELEC rules, dating to the 2014 Municipal Elections here in Trenton, that you have had on your plates since February of this year.

Eric Jackson was elected Mayor of Trenton after a run-off election in June 2014. This had been his second attempt at the office, having run unsuccessfully in 2010. In the aftermath of that failed race, Mr. Jackson neglected to file the necessary quarterly campaign finance reports from that race for over three years. At the point when this lack of compliance became a campaign issue, he hurriedly and belatedly filed three years of report mere weeks before the 2014 election, which this time he won.

Since his election, Eric Jackson has again ignored his obligation to file his required campaign quarterly reports, although this time over the last three years he has done so as an elected public official. The last quarterly report he filed with ELEC was almost exactly three full years ago, on November 28, 2014, for the third calendar quarter of 2014.

In February of this year, I filed a request for investigation with ELEC, pointing out his extreme tardiness in both election cycles. At that time, I received a letter stating an investigation would be opened to examine Mr. Jackson’s 2014 campaign reporting. As is the usual procedure with ELEC investigations, no more has been said about its progress or current status. I seek no information about its status today. I simply ask that you consider adjudicating this case as you determine your agenda for the near future. And I ask for consideration of this case to be processed as soon as possible due to the urgency of the upcoming next election cycle.

This city is preparing for its next municipal election, in May 2018. Mr. Jackson has not yet announced whether he intends to run for re-election. If he chooses to run, he will leave the local electorate limited criteria on which to judge his candidacy. After the previously-elected Trenton Mayor was convicted in Federal court of corrupt activity in public office, Mr. Jackson was elected in no small measure due to his promise to be the Ethical Candidate, the person who would bring trust and transparency back to City Hall.

By flaunting his obligations to provide transparency in his campaign finances by failing to file reports for three years, he is continuing to deny Trenton voters the opportunity to – as state law intends – identify his campaign contributors and examine his campaign expenses. This is not the behavior of the Ethical Mayor he promised to be in 2014.

Even if he does not run, he has set an example for other candidates to follow. One other declared candidate for mayor in next year’s election has yet to file even a Treasury Declaration with ELEC for the race.

This is not the only instance in which he has failed to provide transparency. Upon his 2014 election, he created a non-profit organization called “Moving Trenton Together.” In May of this year, the Internal Revenue Service withdrew that organization’s non-profit status because it had failed to file annual tax returns for three consecutive years, ever since it had been formed. Again, there is no visibility at all of the sources of income for this non-profit, nor knowledge of its expenses.

Eric Jackson’s record on “Moving Trenton Together” taken along with his dual 3-year failures to comply with ELEC requirements for two separate elections, has created a troubling profile of financial secrecy and concealment.

After one felonious mayor and one ethically oblivious mayor, Trenton needs to catch a break. The people of Trenton deserve financial transparency from their public officials and candidates, the kind of transparency that New Jersey’s election laws and this Commission are intended to help provide.

I respectfully request the Commissioners and ELEC staff to complete its investigation of Eric Jackson, issue a report, and compel the release of his campaign financial data so that Trenton voters can make their election choices in May in full sunshine and transparency rather than shadow and secrecy.

Thank you.

Chair Eric Jaso replied, thanking me for the statement, acknowledging the urgency of impending elections in the city in which they are physically located.  He regretted the lack of resources that would allow them to attend the many, many matters in NJ that came their way as swiftly as they would all like He also said that the reason that citizens such as me could speak with so much information and data about what was and wasn’t publicly available was a sign that ELEC was doing the job it was created to do. He finished by saying they would look closely at it as soon as they could. I thanked him for his acknowledgement and for the continuing work of the Commission, and left the meeting as they adjourned into Executive Session.

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