A political action committee recently filed a lawsuit against the county clerk and counsel of Atlantic County, New Jersey, citing disagreement with the county after the PAC's GOTV mail-in-ballot distribution effort resulted in applications to vote by mail being rejected because the applications were deemed incomplete.
Small errors can become big issues
The Press of Atlantic City reported that General Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, filed the suit after the Atlantic County clerk rejected unfinished mail-in-ballot applications. General Majority charged that in rejecting the more than 14,000 applications mailed to Atlantic County residents, the clerk was not only depriving registered voters of their right to vote, but doing so for political reasons. County counsel had responded that the clerk was only following state statute, and though both parties are headed for a hearing in court, it seems likely that General Majority will be forced to burden the time-consuming measure of resending blank forms to replace all those that were rejected.
"The PAC's trouble stemmed from a minor misunderstanding of New Jersey's laws."
The PAC's trouble stemmed from a minor misunderstanding of New Jersey's mail-in ballot application laws. According to the Press of Atlantic City, each voting application had the resident's name and address, but not the signature of an assistor as required by state law whenever another person helps the voter to fill out the application. It was for this reason that the county clerk considered the forms incomplete. General Majority has since arrived at the position that printing a voter's name and address does not legally constitute assistance. That is a distinction for the courts. In the meantime, both parties will be forced to undergo legal proceedings until a decision is reached.
General Majority is not the first PAC to face some type of confusion in New Jersey, a state with a reputation for complicated processes. NorthJersey.com reported in 2014 that PAC restrictions were so Byzantine, many large scale political donors were seriously considering a move to independent organizations rather than established political parties. According to the report, the fundraising efforts of county political parties dropped 30 percent in the last decade. The change was largely attributed to an overhaul of New Jersey's campaign finance laws.
Rules open to interpretation present risks
Earlier this year Gov. Chris Christie's 2016 presidential campaign super PAC, Leadership Matters for America, ran into controversy when questions of potential violations of New Jersey's pay-to-play law arose after the group accepted a large donation from a company under contract to the state's Department of Environmental Protection. New Jersey's law, instituted back in 2005, stated that no business holding a contract worth greater than $17,500 with a state department or agency could contribute money to a political candidate or election fund before the contract was up. Although TRC Companies, the Christie donor, did not receive a contract over that limit, critics still charged that the donation violated the law's spirit, if not its letter.
Christie supporters, however, argued that the pay-to-play law does not pertain to presidential PACs. They cited Jeff Brindle, the executive director of the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission, who told Think Progress that state jurisdiction doesn't apply to federal elections. Regardless, the fact that experienced PACs – particularly those supporting in-state candidates – are running afoul of regulations in New Jersey suggests extra attention is necessary. Just one misstep has the potential to embroil a PAC in expensive litigation and controversy.
Time dedicated to preparing FEC Reports, state campaign finance reports, payroll deductions, processing donor contributions and writing disbursement checks is all time well spent only if PACs spend time studying the intricacies of state-level compliance laws and election guidelines. It's easy to be swept up in paperwork and lose track of small details, so for PACs operating in-state, knowing the intricacies of the laws and attention to administrative detail is absolutely essential.