NJ.com

Clean Elections Experiment Called A Success

NJ.com — Friday August 17, 2007

By dmurphy

Fifteen of the 20 candidates in an experimental clean elections program have collected enough $10 contributions to collect public funds, making the pilot project a "success" that will be continued in future years, supporters in both parties said today.

The legislation establishing the pilot program said it would be considered a "success" – and continued in future years – if at least nine candidates raised enough small contributions to qualify for public funding.

Officially, the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) still must certify that those 15 candidates each got $10 contributions from 400 registered voters living in their districts. But sponsors of the program said that is just a formality.

The pilot project is being run in this year's Senate and Assembly races in the heavily Republican 24th District in northwest New Jersey, the solidly Democratic 37th District in Bergen County and the 14th District in Middlesex and Mercer counties, the only one considered competitive.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) has championed the clean elections program as a way of ridding politics of special interest money. Roberts said he was excited by the prospect of expanding it in 2009 to legislative primary races.

"Before the case could be made to expand the clean elections concept to the primaries, we needed to prove that candidates and voters would embrace the concept of special-interest-free campaigns," Roberts said. "With the positive results already being achieved by this year's program, what once was thought of as a lofty goal is coming closer to becoming a historic reality."

Assemblyman Bill Baroni (R-Mercer), who is running as a clean elections candidate for the seat held by retiring Sen. Peter Inverso (R-Mercer), said, "This may be one of the most important days in New Jersey's fight to clean up elections. For two years, we've been hearing the naysayers say it couldn't be done."

But Gregg Edwards, president of the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey, called the law's test of whether the program is a success "totally inadequate."

"It's the lowest bar you could set for the program," Edwards said. "All it says is there are 15 candidates who are willing to spend taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns, and that should be a surprise to no one."

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