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Campaign finance lawsuit ruling expected this week

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(The Center Square) — A ruling is expected this week on whether New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was part of a conspiracy to oust the former executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Jeffrey Brindle says Murphy and his aides were part of a conspiracy to force him out using “coercive and extorting threats” and exert “illegal pressure and interference” over the commission’s work.

Brindle’s lawyers say an overhaul of New Jersey’s campaign finance law earlier this year, which changed how the governor nominates members to the ethics panel, was unconstitutional and part of a broader “conspiracy” to remove him.

The state Attorney General’s Office, which is representing Murphy, has called on Judge Robert Lougy to dismiss the case as mertiless. In court filings, the attorney general’s office said the state constitution doesn’t say how commission appointments should be made, and authorizes the Legislature to allow direct gubernatorial appointments.

“ELEC is not a constitutionally created office – it is a creature of the Legislature,” they wrote. “Here the Legislature has provided for the appointment of ELEC members by law.”

Brindle, who retired from the post on Nov. 1, said the demands for him to step down came after he published an article satirizing the influence of “dark money” on the state’s political process.

In the complaint, Brindle says he was berated by Murphy’s aides who demanded he resign over claims that he previously made an “anti-gay comment” in an email.

The aides allegedly handed Brindle a pretyped resignation letter addressed to Murphy and told him to sign it, but he refused to do so, his lawyers wrote in legal filings.

“Brindle understood this to be a threat that the alleged email would be disclosed publicly if he refused the demand to resign,” they wrote. “The statement was, in fact, an attempt to extort by force or coercion Brindle’s resignation.”

After he refused to resign, the lawyers say, Murphy and lawmakers amended the Elections Transparency Act to allow the governor to fire the panel’s executive director, who oversees the day-to-day operations. The controversial election law changes were later approved by lawmakers, who have Democratic majorities in both chambers, and signed into law by Murphy.

Brindle has filed a separate civil lawsuit against Murphy, saying he was “persecuted” by the governor for being “a strong critic of dark money political contributions.”

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