Philadelphia Inquirer

Clean Elections In N.J.

Lower the threshold for small donors

The Philadelphia Inquirer — Sunday, August 21, 2005

New Jersey's experiment to limit the influence of money in elections has exposed some unnecessary barriers that lawmakers must remove before the next attempt.

The idea of this pilot program is to hold "clean" elections in two state Assembly districts - the Sixth, in Camden County, and the 13th in Monmouth County. If the candidates raise enough individual contributions of $5 and $30, each party will qualify for $130,200 in campaign money from the state. That would limit the influence of party bosses and other big-money donors hoping to receive government contracts. And it would help to ensure that elections are decided on the strength of the candidates' ideas and character, not on whose war chest is bigger.

But this experiment by the Legislature looks as if it were set up to fail. The number of required individual contributions, 1,500, is needlessly high. If either of the Republican candidates in the Sixth District, Marc Fleischner and JoAnn Gurenlian, failed to solicit enough donations by Sept. 7, both candidates would get nothing. Same for Democrats Louis Greenwald, the incumbent, and Pamela Rosen Lampitt. That threshold should be lower. In Maine, candidates qualify for public funds if they obtain 50 donations of $5 each.

The New Jersey law (proposed by Greenwald) requires donors to write a check or money order, and fill out a form giving their name, address and the name of their employer. More hoops to jump through.

Also, the state didn't promote this experiment, so the candidates must explain it door-to-door. It's not certain that either party will qualify for the state money, which would result in the same old election format.

Only registered voters in the district can help by donating to the candidates. A form for Republicans is at www.votemarcandjoann05.com. To donate to the Democrats, call 856-858-3667 for information. If you're really committed to "clean" elections, why not give $5 to each candidate?

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