December 7, 2017 | Number of The Day

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, the powerful north Jersey Democrat, paid a $20,446.60 penalty to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to settle a four-year-old complaint against him for failing to report the details of or improperly spending more than $70,000 in campaign funds on expensive dinners, trips, a gym membership, and other personal purposes.

DiVincenzo and campaign treasurer Jorge Martinez quietly paid ELEC to settle the matter last month while not admitting any wrongdoing, saying the money was spent “with the good faith belief” that state law allowed such expenditures.

The amount paid represents 80 percent of the total $25,558.25 fine levied by ELEC. It was paid November 20, the day before commission members agreed to accept it. As part of the deal between the parties, ELEC declared $2,178.15 of the spending had been permitted by law and DiVincenzo submitted amended campaign financial reports and agreed to reimburse his campaign treasury $2,640.94. ELEC released the details of the settlement on Wednesday.

This ends the case that began in 2013 and had floundered for years because for a long time the commission did not have a full legal complement — it must have two members of each political party — and for a year leading up to last March, there were not even enough commission members to hold a meeting. DiVincenzo has been an ally of Gov. Chris Christie and the governor either offered no nominees or nominees from the wrong political party for years.

DiVincenzo went to court and won a ruling that the case against him should be dismissed because of ELEC’s inaction. An appeals court panel reversed that decision three months ago, allowing the commission to move forward against DiVincenzo. There had been talk of an appeal to the Supreme Court, but instead, the matter is settled.