New Jersey Herald

Sussex Candidates Qualify For Clean Election Funds

New Jersey Herald — Sunday, August 19, 2007

By BILL WICHERT

After falling behind their Republican opponents, Democratic candidates in the 24th Legislative District have reached the minimum amount of $10 donations to receive public campaign financing and be listed on the November ballot each as a "Clean Elections Candidate."

While the GOP has historically outspent Democrats in Sussex County, candidates from both parties have now become eligible to accept at least half of the $100,000 in public campaign dollars under the "New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project."

"We've already had a major victory for ourselves," said Democratic Senate candidate Edwin Selby, who is running with Assembly candidates Toni Zimmer and Pat Walsh. "This time around, we're going to be much closer to them."

Under the program, candidates must receive at least 400 contributions of $10 each, or $4,000, to get $46,000 in public dollars for a total campaign fund of $50,000. With the maximum 800 $10 contributions, or $8,000, matching public funds bring each candidate to $100,000.

Contributions must come from registered voters in the legislative district, which includes all of Sussex County and parts of Morris and Hunterdon counties. Candidates cannot use any other funds for their campaign, and they must participate in two debates.

Candidates have until the end of next month to receive public financing, but they had to reach the minimum fundraising level by Wednesday to be listed on the ballot as a "Clean Elections Candidate," a slogan all candidates want to see beside their names.

"I would imagine it's a relief for everybody that they qualified," said Republican Senate candidate Steve Oroho, whose running mates are Assembly candidates Alison Littell McHose and Gary Chiusano.

As of Wednesday, the donations were as follows: Oroho, $7,200; McHose, $5,010; Chiusano, $5,400; Selby, $4,600; Zimmer, $4,510; and Walsh, $4,420.

The Democrats started fundraising in May, but the Republicans joined the effort in early July and hit the minimum amount in a month's time, a show of strength by the party that outnumbers Democrats by more than 3-1 in registered voters.

In the week leading up to Wednesday's deadline, however, the Democratic candidates knocked on doors and made phone calls to collect the required amount of donations in time.

"We really do believe in the program," Zimmer said. "It meant a lot for us to be determined 'clean elections candidates.' Finances are great, but the program means a lot more."

In addition to the "clean elections" slogan, candidates are entitled to a ballot statement of no more than 250 words, which will be included on the sample ballots mailed to each registered voter in the legislative district.

Oroho said the Republican team's ballot statements will highlight the candidates' previous experience in the public and private sectors as well as their "business philosophy" of government. Oroho and Chiusano are currently Sussex County freeholders, and McHose is seeking reelection to her Assembly seat.

The Democrats' ballot statements will discuss their own issues and promote the concept of "clean elections," the candidates said.

"I really believe this is an exercise in returning power to the people," Selby said.

Statewide, 15 of the 20 candidates in the program have raised enough money to qualify, officials said. They had said if nine qualified, it would be a success. So supporters of the program predicted it will be continued and could be expanded in 2009.

The state Election Law Enforcement Commission must still certify the 15 but that is expected to be a formality.

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