Asbury Park Press

Clean Elections Loses A Team

Asbury Park Press — Thursday, September 8, 2005

The Democratic candidates in the 13th Legislative District have thrown in the towel in trying to raise enough small donations to participate in the Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project devised to limit the influence of money in political campaigns. They have another Democrat, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, to blame for sponsoring a law that makes it too difficult to meet the fund-raising requirements.

But all is not lost for Clean Elections in the 13th District Assembly race. The Republican candidates, Assemblyman Samuel D. Thompson and Monmouth County Freeholder Amy H. Handlin, say they will stick with the experiment, even though they have yet to reach the fund-raising threshold.

Each candidate must receive 1,000 donations of $5 and 500 of $30 by Sept. 21 to qualify for public financing of their campaigns to the tune of $59,175 each. Democrat William Flynn said Tuesday he and running mate Michael Dasaro would be unable to gather the 3,000 donations they need.

Flynn did say that he and Dasaro will honor the Clean Elections spending limit of $118,350 for their campaign. That is a pledge the Republican slate and the voters in the district should monitor closely.

The Democrats had forsaken traditional fund raising from professionals, special-interest groups and their party to conduct a Clean Elections campaign. Now that they've pulled out, it would be only too easy for them to accept money wheeled into the campaign from power brokers such as Camden County Democratic boss George E. Norcross III.

One party using much more money than the other is the type of uneven playing field the Clean Elections project is supposed to prevent. In pushing for the law, Roberts said it would also open the door for nontraditional candidates and those who don't have access to the power structure.

But the requirements Roberts supported to show widespread support are too cumbersome. The initial donation method, check or money order, was expanded to include debit cards. But that came late in the fund-raising process. The paperwork, including a form with detailed information about the donor, was daunting and may have turned off potential contributors.

Critics feared the project, as designed, was doomed to failure. Even its supporters concede the program must be reformed. Thompson and Handlin should not abandon their commitment to this project despite its flaws. The goal – to rid campaigns of moneyed interests – is too worthy to forsake.

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