Philadelphia Inquirer

Election Test Starts Online Donations

One of the candidates taking part in the public-financing pilot program in N.J. called the change common sense

The Philadelphia Inquirer — Monday, August 29, 2005

By Kaitlin Gurney
Inquirer Trenton Bureau

TRENTON — With the deadline to qualify in New Jersey's first "Clean Elections" only eight days away, rules have been eased for collecting the 1,500 small contributions candidates need to participate in the public-financing pilot program.

The State Election Enforcement Commission will now allow voters to make online contributions of $5 and $30 using debit or check cards at a Web site <www.state.nj.us/treasury/clean_election> the state Treasury Department expects to have operating later this week.

Assembly candidates in Camden County's Sixth District and Monmouth County's 13th District – the only two legislative districts participating in the state's Clean Elections experiment – have in previous weeks had to collect contributions solely by check or money order. The goal of the program, proponents say, is to eliminate the corrosive influence of money from a state that routinely has some of the most expensive legislative races in the country.

Neither Sixth District campaign has collected the 500 contributions of $30 and 1,000 contributions of $5 that each candidate needs qualify for up to $100,000 in state financing. The Democratic candidates, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald and Cherry Hill Councilwoman Pamela Rosen Lampitt, announced last week that they were 65 percent of the way to that goal. Republicans JoAnn Gurenlian and Marc Fleischner say they have collected nearly 40 percent of the contributions they need.

The change in the pilot program's rules came at the request of Greenwald and Assemblyman Sam Thompson (R., Monmouth), a candidate in the 13th District.

"In today's checkless society, permitting voters to use technologically advanced payment methods makes common sense," Greenwald said.

Voters who contribute to the Clean Elections campaigns online will still be required to complete a form with their name, address, phone number and employment information. Candidates say that residents are often reluctant to submit such personal information to the state.

Pilot program organizers have been hesitant to allow cash contributions because there is no way to track and verify them, said William Schluter, chairman of the Clean Elections Commission, charged with monitoring the public-financing experiment.

But using check and debit cards "will not diminish the integrity of the clean-elections system," Schluter said.

Republican campaign manager Jeff Kasko said the new contribution method may have been established too late to do much good.

"JoAnn and Marc will welcome anything that will allow voters to give more easily - but this change would have helped a lot more a month ago," he said.

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