Saturday, February 11, 2006

Panel: NJ Clean Election Program Shows Promise

The panel assessing the state’s experiment to remove big money from elections said last year’s effort showed promise to clean up New Jersey’s culture of corruption and should be ready for prime time, so to speak, ahead of the 2007 legislative elections. The good people of South Jersey are keeping their fingers crossed. Personally I'm sick of people looking at me funny when I tell them I am from Camden County. Sometimes I need T shirt that says, "I have nothing to do with anyone in the Norcro$$ clan." But I digress...

Anyway, given the shady and salacious nature of South Jersey politics it seems fitting that last year's pilot program was conducted in the 6th District, made up of 16 towns in Camden County, including (my hometown) Cherry Hill, as well as the 13th District.

In the end, only one team of Assembly candidates, 6th District Democrats Louis D. Greenwald and Pamela Rosen Lampitt, managed to gather enough $5 and $30 donations to qualify for state funding. They ended up giving a portion of the $260,000 to their Republican opponents (who were unable to raise the requisite amound of small donations) but nonetheless prevailed in Democratic-leaning Cherry Hill.

Let me repeat that:
They ended up giving a portion of the $260,000 to their Republican opponents , which at first blush sounds pretty darn civilized.

(AP Reports)--

Although only two candidates succeeded in raising enough of the small donations to qualify for state funding, "We cannot allow the difficulties the candidates faced to stop this program. We need to fix the details," said Assemblyman William E. Baroni Jr.

The pilot program offered candidates campaign money from the state treasury if they raised $20,000 from 1,500 donors in their district and agreed only to take contributions of $5 or $30.

The aim was to encourage more door-to-door campaigning while limiting the influence of party bosses, special-interest groups and political committees, which can contribute up to $8,200 to a single candidate for office in New Jersey.

Under a law passed in 2004, the program took place in two of the 40 legislative districts last year; 10 Assembly candidates participated. They were eligible for up to $130,000 in state funds, depending on the district.


Acknowledging that surveys found little public awareness of the clean elections project, Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein, urged the media and citizens' groups "to go forth and educate." Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer counties, is a member of the commission and co-sponsor of the law that created the pilot.

Although the program cost taxpayers $260,000 and the state is facing a budget shortfall, the amount is "infinitesimal" compared to special grants annually made by the Legislature, said commission Chairman William E. Schluter, a former Republican state senator who ran for governor as an independent in 2001.

Added Baroni, "It's a public investment in cleaning up a culture of corruption."

In a statement, Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. said many of the commission's concerns were valid.

"The most noteworthy finding is that clean elections should continue to go forward in this state," said Roberts, D-Camden.

Panel members hope that NJ will ultimately expand the clean elections program to all districts. Arizona and Maine have similar programs, and Connecticut recently adopted one.

I should add that back in 1977, NJ instituted public financing for gubernatorial candidates who adhere to spending limits. All major party nominees have participated since, except last year, when gazillionaires Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester bankrolled their own gazillion dollar race for the Governor's mansion.

Who knew? Not me, that's for sure. One thing is clear, the more folks in NJ hear about this program to clean up Trenton, they more they seem to like it

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