New Jersey Herald

'Clean Elections' Official: Retrieve The Money

Candidates donate funds to other campaign

New Jersey Herald — Tuesday, October 23, 2007

By BILL WICHERT

One of the leading supporters of the state's "clean elections" program has called on Democrats running in the 24th Legislative District to stop using their public financing for contributions to other campaigns and to retrieve the money that was already donated.

New Jersey Citizen Action, the state's largest citizen watchdog coalition, would like to see the campaign finance program go statewide, but the organization disapproves of how Democratic Senate candidate Ed Selby and his Assembly running mates Toni Zimmer and Pat Walsh have donated more than $4,000 to candidates on the county and municipal levels.

"That's not the intent of the program. That money was given to candidates to fund their campaigns," said Marilyn Carpinteyro, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Citizen Action. "We've identified a potential loophole that we will need to address the next time around."

Contributions to other campaigns are permitted under the "New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project," but New Jersey Citizen Action sent letters last week to all candidates from the three selected "clean elections" legislative districts – 14th, 24th and 37th – urging them to refrain from making such donations and to have the money returned, Carpinteyro said.

The Democratic candidates are not expected to make any additional donations, but Selby said they will not ask for the money back. By donating to other campaigns, the candidates are improving their chances of reaching potential voters in the Nov. 6 general election and spending money like any political candidate would, Selby said. The Democrats are facing Republican Senate candidate Steve Oroho and Assembly candidates Alison Littell McHose and Gary Chiusano.

"We believe it's an appropriate campaign expense and so does the law," Selby said. "Our local candidates are our foot troops. They're our grassroots. If their campaigns can run more strongly, it helps us out."

Of the 16 candidates participating in the clean elections program, only one other candidate besides the local Democrats has made a contribution to a non-participating campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. In the 14th Legislative District, which includes parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties. Democratic Senate candidate Seema Singh donated $200 to Mercer County Sheriff Kevin Larkin.

Selby, Zimmer and Walsh have spent $46,744 on their campaign, including $4,255 in contributions to 14 sets of candidates or parly committees in Sussex, Hunterdon and Morris counties, all three of which are included in the 24th Legislative District, according to their Oct. 9 campaign finance reports. Selby donated $1,835, and Zimmer and Walsh contributed $735 and $1,685, respectively.

Walsh also made a $500 donation to the Sussex County Democratic Committee, but County Democratic Chairwoman Megan Ward said that contribution was declined. Ward declined to comment on either why the donation was rejected or on the recent criticism of the Democratic candidates' contributions to other campaigns.

The Democrats raised $7,129 in "seed money" and $16,720 worth of $10 contributions to qualify for $168,590 in public financing through the clean elections program, according to the reports. Their combined war chest is $192,409, compared to the Republicans' overall campaign fund of $323,325, according to the reports. Oroho, McHose and Chiusano received $270,990 in public dollars and spent $54,076 by Oct. 9, but they have not made any contributions to other campaigns, reports show.

Democratic county freeholder candidate Chris Wyman said he did not have problem accepting a $100 contribution from Selby, because he held a campaign fundraiser in July at his house for the state-level candidates. The event cost him between $500 and $600, but it allowed the candidates to receive $10 qualifying contributions to get clean elections money, W^roan said.

"It ended up costing me hundreds of dollars and they knew it. They left here with a bunch of money," Wyman said. "We're just trying to help each other. It's an uphill battle. I don't think it's wrong. It's quite legal."

Wyman said he received $100 from Selby and $50 from Walsh, but Zimmer decided to not make a donation in light of the recent criticism brought against her and her running mates. Zimmer said she previously donated to Wyman out of her pocket, not her campaign account.

"I'm not going to stir the pot," Zimmer said. "I'm not a rabble-rouser. I'm not going to give any more contributions to local candidates."

At least one $100 check has been returned. Democratic county sheriff candidate Wayne Yahm received that amount from Selby's campaign, but returned it last weekend, he said.

"If they got that money, it should be for their campaign," Yahm said. "We're all Democrats. We should be helping each other anyway."

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