Asbury Park Press

Signatures + $5 Each = Clean Election

Asbury Park Press — Thursday, October 28, 2004


Barbara Lubin said it's more difficult to persuade voters to donate $5 to a campaign than it is to get them to give $100.

As a publicly financed candidate in Arizona, Lubin had to ask 1,575 voters to sign her nomination petition and then give a $5 qualifying contribution. The signatures and donations were required to demonstrate broad-based support in order to obtain state campaign funds.

Barbara Lubin, 46, of Phoenix was the first publicly financed candidate in Arizona in 2000, but she lost the race for a seat on the state's utility regulation board. She now serves as director of the Clean Elections Institute in Phoenix, a nonprofit group that seeks to promote and protect the public financing of campaigns."People who you ask to give $5 want to know a lot about you," said Lubin, who ran for a seat on that state's utility regulation board. "It takes 15 to 20 minutes to explain the system to people, and then they want to know about you as a person before they'll give you $5. It's easier to get $100 because the people who give $100 understand the system better and are participating in it."

Lubin, 46, of Phoenix was the first publicly financed candidate in Arizona in 2000 but lost the race.

She now serves as director of the Clean Elections Institute in Phoenix, a nonprofit group that seeks to promote and protect the public financing of campaigns.

The public financing, first authorized for the 2000 election, has increased voter turnout and the number of candidates running for state offices, Lubin said. Public funding is not provided for local or county candidates.

There were 199 candidates for state offices who ran in the 1998 primary. In 2002, two years after the advent of public financing, there were 247 candidates, according to figures compiled by the institute. Lubin said the same seats were on the ballot in 1998 and 2000, so the comparison is valid.

Voter turnout increased 25 percent in the primary and 22 percent in the general election in a comparison of the 1998 and 2002 elections.

Publicly financed candidates receive between $28,300 and $84,890 in an election year. If their opponent rejects funding and accepts campaign contributions, publicly financed candidates receive additional money above the $28,300 minimum.

The publicly financed candidates may not accept private donations, except for those up to $100 for "seed money" at the start of the campaign year.

Candidates then qualify for public financing by getting $5 contributions from supporters who sign their nominating petitions. For Arizona Senate and House of Representatives seats, candidates must collect at least 210 such contributions and signatures.

Next year, New Jersey will experiment with its own version of clean campaigns. The pilot project will work largely the same way, with minor differences.

For example, even "clean" candidates next year will be able to accept campaign donations and transfers from political action committees until right after the June primary, said Albert Porroni, executive director of the state Office of Legislative Services. Then they could join the nascent clean elections program and accept state funding, Porroni added.

However, if they join the Clean Elections program, those candidates can only use $3,000 of the original money they raised, and only if that $3,000 comes from individuals donating $200 or less, said Frederick M. Herrmann, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The bottom line is the old rules apply in primary fights, with the new Clean Election rules taking over in the general election.

Assembly candidates in the chosen Clean Elections districts who want public financing will be required to obtain more signatures than in Arizona: 1,000 contributions of $5 and another 500 contributions of $30 in order to qualify.

Publicly financed candidates will receive up to $100,000 and can double their money if their opponent chooses to accept traditional campaign contributions.

Under the new program, one state legislative district in either Monmouth or Ocean counties will, by law, participate in a pilot Clean Elections program.

The law was passed in June in the aftermath of Gannett New Jersey newspapers' "Profiting from Public Service" series, which outlined various ethical problems with lawmakers. Another district in South Jersey will be selected as well.

It will take until at least the 2009 election before Clean Elections rules expand statewide, if they do at all.

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