Asbury Park Press

"Clean Elections" Needs Scrubbing

Asbury Park Press — Monday, June 27, 2005

In its current form, the Clean Elections Pilot Project, which is designed to draw more candidates into the political process and diminish the influence of moneyed interests, is doomed to failure. Assembly Majority Leader Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, may praise it as significant campaign finance reform, but the rules for qualifying are too burdensome to make it work.

Candidates who want to run a "clean" campaign – accepting only public funds – have to collect 1,000 individual contributions of $5 and 500 contributions of $30. That's a major chore, made all the more difficult by the requirement that the donations be gathered in July and August only.

Assemblyman Steven Corodemus, R-Monmouth, has offered a bill (A-3649) to make requirements for participating candidates less cumbersome. He wants the commission that reviews the pilot project to be less partisan. And he wants more than token sanctions for violations.

Corodemus is among the candidates who won't run "clean" because they are fearful that nonparticipating opponents could rely on unlimited contributions from party power brokers, special interests or individuals. A "clean" candidate, limited to a maximum of $100,000 in public funding, risks being overwhelmed by the advertising of an "unclean" opponent.

Monmouth County Freeholder Amy H. Handlin, a Republican running for Assembly in the 13th District, says she will run as a "clean" candidate if her district is selected for the pilot project. The state party chairman is expected to decide this week.

Handlin has name recognition in eight of the nine towns in the district from her years as a freeholder. Running "clean" would limit her spending, but it would send a powerful message about her independence from special interests. If her opponents aren't participating, they would have a hard time overcoming that issue.

Corodemus' bill addresses the qualification burden by reducing the fund raising to 210 contributions of $5 – still enough to show the widespread support sought by the bill's proponents. It also reduces the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to seven members, with three public members not affiliated with any political party. As it is now, there is only one nonpartisan public member and six of the nine members are Democrats.

Roberts and the Assembly Democrats should drop the fancy rhetoric about campaign reform and recognize that this is a flawed law. They should move quickly to amend it so it can achieve its stated objectives. Embracing Corodemus' remedies would be a good start.

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