CourierPostOnline

6th District Voters Should Take Charge

CourierPostOnline — Saturday, August 20, 2005

If residents exercise their strength, they can start to regain control through the upcoming election.

Every New Jersey resident who pays any attention to politics has heard the complaints: The bosses control the system; my opinions don't matter to the politicians; elected officials only care about the big-time donors.

Unfortunately, nobody has been able to produce much evidence to the contrary.

But residents in one South Jersey legislative district have a real chance to help change the system this year. We urge those who live in the 6th District to open their checkbooks and make the clean elections pilot program work.

Under the program, candidates have to prove their viability by collecting 1,000 contributions of $5 each and another 500 contributions of $30 each. If they clear the barrier by Sept. 7, each candidate will qualify for $65,100 in state funds to run his or her campaign.

In effect, major donors don't mean a thing under this plan. Candidates need to raise $20,000 in increments that most average citizens can afford. And once a candidate has access to the $65,100, he or she can't accept funds from any other donors.

The clean elections system is a tremendous step in the right direction for New Jersey.

That being said, the program does have its share of faults. The sheer number of donations needed, for example, makes it highly unlikely that interested citizens without direct ties to either major party would be able to earn a piece of the pie. Furthermore, if one party reaches the cutoff and the other doesn't, the successful party gets all the money – $260,400 in this case – while the other party must start over with no money.

These and other shortcomings will be addressed after the election, once legislators have a chance to see how the program works in the 6th and 13th districts.

For now, however, residents with any interest in seeing New Jersey politics improve should consider donating.

The major-party candidates are: Democrats Pamela Rosen Lampitt and Louis Greenwald, the incumbent assemblyman from Voorhees; and Republicans Marc Fleischner and JoAnn Gurenlian.

If both tickets qualify, each will have $130,200 to spend on the campaign. That's likely to make for a much more balanced race in comparison with the 2003 campaign in the 6th District that saw Democrats raise $478,000, while Republicans made do with $22,000.

Furthermore, any $5 or $30 donations made at this time goes into the Clean Elections Fund, not directly to a particular candidate. Interested citizens might want to consider donating to all four candidates to ensure the clean elections program gets a fair trial.

This program is a real opportunity for residents to take control away from special interests. Similar programs have spurred considerable interest and support in Arizona and Maine.

We hope New Jersey residents work together to make it a success here as well.

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