The Star-Ledger

Roberts Sees 'Clean Elections' Program Growing In '09

The Star-Ledger — Monday, October 1, 2007

BY ROBERT SCHWANEBERG

Having proven it can work this year in three of the state's 40 legislative districts, an experimental program of replacing special-interest contributions to political campaigns with taxpayer funding deserves to be "substantially expanded," Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said today.

Roberts, who championed the "clean elections" program in the Legislature, said it has "demonstrated that it can indeed work in New Jersey" after a disappointing start two years ago.

Then, only two of the 10 eligible candidates raised enough small contributions from voters to qualify for taxpayer funding of their campaigns. This year, 16 of 20 candidates in the test districts qualified for public funding by raising at least 400 contributions of $10 each from registered voters.

"We're light years ahead of where we were two years ago," Roberts said at a news conference at the statehouse in Trenton. "We went from hitting .200 to hitting .800 this year."

Under the law establishing the pilot program, that makes it "a success" that can be expanded statewide for the 2009 legislative races, when only the Assembly will be up for re-election. Roberts neither committed to nor ruled out taking the program statewide by 2009, saying he wants to discuss that with other lawmakers after this election.

Roberts said he is "open to the broadest possible expansion" of the clean elections program, but its cost might be a reason for taking an "incremental" approach rather than expanding it statewide by 2009. This year's pilot program has a budget of $7.7 million.

"A basic mistake that might be the end of clean elections in New Jersey would be to overreach," Roberts said. He said voters need to be shown the program can get large special-interest donations out of legislative races and "ratchet down" the cost of running for office.

Copyright 2007 The Star-Ledger

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