Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle has filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and three of his top aides, after the head of the election money watchdog agency was summoned to the governor’s office in November and ordered to resign.
The complaint alleges that Murphy engaged in a conspiracy to force Brindle out of his longtime post over his efforts to shed light on “dark money” in politics, a sensitive topic for the Wall Street millionaire who essentially bought the 2017 nomination from Democratic Party power brokers.
Brindle, who has been in his position for more than two decades, has been a vocal advocate for transparency in campaign financing.
He has pushed for stronger disclosure rules and has been a leading voice in the fight against the use of anonymous contributions in political campaigns.
According to the lawsuit, Brindle’s efforts to expose the influence of dark money in New Jersey’s political system put him at odds with the governor and his aides.
“Jeff Brindle is being persecuted by the governor because he is a strong critic of dark money political contributions,” said Bruce Afran, one of Brindle’s attorneys. “We all know that this governor benefits by dark money and will use dark money in any future campaign for office … Jeff is an embarrassment to him.”
The civil complaint alleges that Murphy and his team retaliated against Brindle by withholding funds and other resources his agency needed to carry out its duties.
The lawsuit claims that the governor and his aides “sought to undermine and diminish Mr. Brindle’s authority and influence, and to force him from his position.”
Brindle’s attorney, Michael Baldassare, said that his client was “unjustly and unlawfully targeted” because of his efforts to hold politicians accountable.
Murphy’s office has denied the allegations, calling them “baseless and without merit.”
A spokesperson for Murphy said, “We will vigorously defend ourselves against these spurious claims, and we remain committed to transparency and accountability in our government” but a late amendment was inserted into legislation that would defang the campaign finance watchdog by giving the governor new powers over the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
The lawsuit comes at a time when dark money, or political spending by groups that do not disclose their donors, has become an increasingly contentious issue in New Jersey and across the country.
Using his own Wall Street fortune while simultaneously forming ‘independent’ organizations to advance his carefully crafted image, Murphy has made it difficult for voters to know who is funding his political campaigns.
last year, Murphy’s wife and a top administration staffer launched two groups aimed at cultivating the governor’s national political ambitions, but one of the groups will not disclose its donors.
The groups are both called Stronger Fairer Forward — a slogan Murphy himself has used —but one is a political action committee and the other is a nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy organization.
In recent years, Brindle has been at the forefront of efforts to shine a light on dark money in New Jersey. He has called for tougher disclosure rules, spoken out against the use of anonymous contributions to fund political campaigns, and made ELEC’s political donation databases, lobbying reports and other campaign data more accessible to public inspection.
The lawsuit alleges that the governor and his aides were unhappy with Brindle’s efforts to increase transparency in the political system. It claims that they took a number of steps to undermine Brindle’s authority, including withholding funds and resources needed to carry out his duties.
The lawsuit also alleges that the governor and his aides lied about Brindle’s job performance in an effort to justify their actions. The suit claims that these false statements were made in bad faith and were intended to discredit Brindle.
The lawsuit seeks damages for Brindle’s lost income, as well as punitive damages for the harm caused by the alleged conspiracy. It also seeks an order requiring the governor and his aides to stop interfering with Brindle’s duties and to provide him with the resources he needs to carry out his work.
The lawsuit has been met with mixed reactions. Some have praised Brindle for his efforts to promote transparency in the political system, while others have questioned the timing of the lawsuit, which comes just months before the state’s gubernatorial election.