Emails from election law watchdog reveal fixation on LGBTQ community

March 24, 2023 7:14 am

Jeff Brindle, who runs the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, reacts in a June 2021 email to a request that state workers consider adding their pronouns to their email signatures.

Every queer person knows what it’s like to be stuck at a holiday dinner next to someone who makes us cringe when they speak.

Sometimes they don’t say anything outright offensive — nothing that would get bleeped on network television — but often what comes out of their mouths represents a relic of a more troubling time for us.

That’s the feeling I get reading Jeff Brindle’s emails.

Brindle is the executive director of the Election Law Enforcement Commission, which is tasked with keeping an eye on politicians and making sure they disclose their donors properly, don’t spend campaign cash illegally, and update the public on their finances.

He’s come under fire recently because of an email he sent to a staffer in October mocking National Coming Out Day. State officials said in a memo the New Jersey Monitor obtained this week that the email was a blatant violation of the state’s anti-discrimination policy, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has made moves to oust Brindle over it.

When I first read it, I thought, well, I’d probably complain to someone if my boss sent me this, but I might be satisfied if they got a reminder about what’s appropriate to say in work emails. I don’t know if I’d push for them to be fired.

But Brindle didn’t keep his snark about the LGBTQ community confined to that one email, according to a batch obtained via the Open Public Records Act by CJ Griffin, a transparency advocate and attorney who has represented the New Jersey Monitor.

  • In June, state officials sent a staff-wide email noting it was Pride month and suggesting employees consider adding their pronouns to their email signature. Brindle forward to an unknown person with this comment: “Give me a break.”
  • To a staffer who shared a story about a gay pride stunt courtesy of Burger King in Austria, Brindle wrote, “Unbelievable.”
  • He shared a July story from conservative news site Town Hall about a trans woman who impregnated two inmates in New Jersey’s women’s prison. He wrote, “We truly are living through insane times.”
  • In July, Breitbart wrote about Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas — a transgender woman whose participation in women’s sports made her a nationwide target — not being named NCAA’s woman of the year. Brindle sent the link to a staffer. “Lia lost this one,” he wrote.

Other emails that contain links to news stories with no comment from Brindle reveal a fixation with queer folks. He shared a story on parents griping about a Pride celebration in their kids’ middle school; a Town Hall story about a trans woman who regrets transitioning and criticized gender-affirming health care; and a Breitbart story about a Pride month social media post from the U.S. Marine Corps.

I emailed Brindle asking him if the emails betray any personal animus toward the LGBTQ community. He did not respond.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is behind a move to get rid of Jeff Brindle, the head of the Election Law Enforcement Commission, over an email Brindle sent to a staffer last year. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

I wrote last week about my opposition to Murphy’s move to force out Brindle by hijacking control of the Election Law Enforcement Commission (a bill under consideration by the Legislature would give Murphy the sole power to remove the current commissioners and replace them all). Nothing in Brindle’s emails makes me reconsider this, since I don’t think the governor should gain this power just to target one person.

But that doesn’t mean the commissioners shouldn’t examine Brindle’s behavior at work. If he’s using his work email to trade anti-LGBTQ stories with staffers, what does that mean about how he treats his subordinates from that community? What does it say about the overall environment of his office? Is the stuff he says out loud worse than what he commits to writing, in documents he knows can be publicly revealed?

And why are Brindle and other commission employees exchanging work emails during work hours about subjects irrelevant to their jobs, like transgender swimmers who live in another state or PR gimmicks by Burger King in Austria? Could this be why the commission’s investigations move at a glacial pace?

Griffin told me when she first heard about the National Coming Out Day email, it set off “alarm bells” and made her wonder whether there was more going on, “especially since it seemed unlikely that a single email would cause Murphy to demand a resignation.”

“I also doubted that his actions were just a ‘power grab.’ I always tell my clients to ‘OPRA the emails,’ so I did. As is often the case, transparency revealed that there is indeed more to the story,” Griffin said.

Brindle’s commissioners are holding a meeting next week to discuss the matter. Garden State Equality, the state’s LGBTQ rights group, is demanding Brindle resign, saying the emails reveal Brindle’s workplace “is steeped in a toxic brine of biases which has no place in a civilized society.”

“We are disgusted by his visible contempt for the LGBTQ community. This is even more shocking as it is spewed from his official government email account, which carries with it the imprimatur of an official government position,” the group’s statement reads.

One last thing, about the National Coming Out Day email. In that one, Brindle emailed a staffer in reference to an Oct. 11, 2022, email from state government noting that day was National Coming Out Day.

“Are you coming out?” Brindle wrote to the unidentified staffer. “No Lincoln or Washington‘s Birthday’s [sic] but we can celebrate national coming out day.”

But: We do celebrate Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays — it’s called Presidents Day. And Brindle, as a state employee, had a paid day off to commemorate it. He did not get one for National Coming Out Day.

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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”