Asbury Park Press

Candidates Seek Simpler Clean-Election Requirements

Hopefuls, donors find fund-raising tough

Asbury Park Press — Friday, August 19, 2005

BY ANDREA ALEXANDER
KEYPORT BUREAU

MIDDLETOWN — A commission monitoring the New Jersey Fair and Clean Election Pilot Project – designed to limit the influence of big campaign donors – is concerned the program is in danger of failing and wants the rules to be simplified.

The New Jersey Citizens' Clean Elections Commission held a meeting at Brookdale Community College Thursday and listened to the six state Assembly candidates running in the 13th District testify that they may not meet the project's rigorous requirements.

Each candidate must receive 1,000 $5 checks and 500 $30 checks by Sept. 7 to qualify for state funds.

The project presents special challenges because the fund-raising requirements are complex and riddled with hurdles for the candidates and donors.

The candidates are unsure they will be able to raise the 1,500 contributions totaling $20,000 each by the deadline.

"The requirements to become a qualified candidate are unrealistic and perhaps impossible to obtain in my estimation," said Assemblyman Samuel D. Thompson, who is running on the Republican ticket with Amy H. Handlin.

They are running against Democratic candidates Michael Dasaro, 31, of Holmdel and William Flynn, 67, of Old Bridge and Green Party candidates Mike Hall, 50, and Greg Orr, 45, both of Middletown.

If the candidates are successful in collecting the 1,500 contributions by Sept. 7, they would each receive a state grant of $59,175. The Green Party candidates would qualify for only half of that, according to the regulations approved by the Legislature last year.

The threshold "is unreasonably high," Hall said. "If the Green Party makes the threshold, we only get half. That makes no sense to me. That's not fair."

If even one candidate on a ticket doesn't succeed, they both will have to start fund-raising from scratch in September. The checks they collect until the deadline go toward the Clean Elections Fund, not individual campaigns, according to the program guidelines.

If none of the candidates qualify, "the public will not be served well," said Carol Murphy, a member of the citizens' commission. "No candidate and no one in the Legislature will vote to do this again."

Handlin asked: "If the requirements of the program are widely perceived as unrealistic, impractical, short-sighted and inherently unfair, then what in the world will motivate future candidates to opt into it?"

The meeting was largely attended by watchdog groups, the candidates, and a few citizens.

Members of the commission had expressed support for seeking a special session of the state Legislature to make changes to the program, but the commission's Chairman William E. Schluter said it would be unlikely. He said the group will present a list of questions to the Election Law Enforcement Commission to simplify the program, such as allowing cash donations.

Flynn said that whether the rules are simplified or not by Sept. 7, he considers the program worthwhile.

"We are pioneers," he said. "Whether we qualify or not, it is a successful program because the Legislature will see what needs to be changed."

The legislation that established the program also created a New Jersey Citizens' Clean Elections Commission to monitor the experiment. The commission is meeting throughout the campaign and will hold public hearings after the election. The 13th district is comprised of Aberdeen, Hazlet, Holmdel, Keansburg, Keyport, Matawan, Middletown, Old Bridge and Union Beach.

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