The Times, Trenton

Clean Elections

Still a good idea

The Times of Trenton — Friday, July 6, 2007

Round two of the Clean Elections initiative is drawing flak from participating candidates, but their complaints certainly are outweighed by the benefits of the new law,

Some candidates in the 24th and 37th Legislative Districts complain about the cumbersome process and paperwork they go through to make sure they've gathered the 800 individual $10 donations they need to qualify for maximum public funding,

"From what I have learned about it so far, it seems they could have simplified the bureaucracy," said Sen, Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, running for re-election in the 37th, "We have to fill out three sets of paperwork and the people donating have to stand around and complete a form when they give money."

Assemblywoman Allison Littel McHose, R-Franklin (Sussex County), told Times' reporter Darryl Isherwood that the process was "very cumbersome and confusing." The Assemblywoman voted against the Clean Elections bill when it was making its way through the Assembly.

There may be some paperwork problems involved with the process, which, by the way, is still a vast improvement over the very confusing first try at Clean Elections of two years ago. The intent of the law is to get special-interest groups and pay-to-play firms and individuals out of the business-as-usual practice of funding campaigns, then expecting political largesse in return. Clean Elections is still in the trial stages and lawmakers will be able to tweak the process after observing how this year's campaigns in the trial districts turn out.

Area voters will get an up-close look at the process, be cause the 14th District, which covers parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties, is one of the experimental districts. Clean Elections advocates Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R- Hamilton, and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, D-Plainsboro, led the fight for Clean Elections legislation and were involved in improving this year's version. So far, Mr. Baroni, who is running for the district's Senate seat, and his Assembly running mates, have gathered the required 800 do nations and are now eligible to receive the maximum amount of public funding -- $534,000 (the other districts' candidates can get a maximum of $100,000 in public funding). Ms. Greenstein, a candidate for reelection in the Assembly, and her Democratic running mates are closing in on the 800 donations.

While lawmakers look at ways to simplify the process, they also should look at the maximum amount of public funding involved. Mr. Baroni believes the $534,000 is far too much money to spend in a campaign, even though that's the average amount spent in the last two legislative campaigns. He noted that the law, however, provides that any unspent money be returned to the taxpayers.

Certainly the law could be changed to provide for less public funding. Still, the bottom line is that candidates, once they've gathered the required individual small donations, can be free to campaign vigorously without having their hand out to those who expect favors in return.

Copyright 2007 The Times of Trenton

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