N.J. Weighs More Public Campaign Financing

CourierPostOnline — Thursday, June 12, 2008

Associated Press

TRENTON — Corruption-plagued New Jersey is seeking to broaden a program to remove special-interest influence from its elections.

An Assembly committee Thursday advanced legislation that would extend public financing of political campaigns to more state elections in 2009, clearing it for further consideration.

A 2007 trial version of the program provided legislative candidates in three districts with public funds, as opposed to money donated by special-interest groups.

The bill sponsor said the new proposal would move New Jersey closer to having a statewide publicly funded campaign program. Arizona, Connecticut and Maine currently have such programs.

"Last year's successful clean elections pilot program showed that voters will respond to campaigns that are focused on the issues and free of special-interest money," said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, the bill sponsor.

The bill would expand public financing to primary candidates, increase the number of participating districts from three to eight and ensure equal funding for Conservative, Green and Libertarian candidates. The state has 40 election districts.

"The goal of creating a system that can work statewide clearly is within sight," Greenwald said.

Funding would be lower than the 2007 program, when candidates could get up to $526,375 in public financing. Under the new measure, $75,000 would be available in the primary, with another $75,000 available for the general election.

Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, R-Sussex, who participated in 2007's program and criticized it, questioned how the chronically cash-strapped state could afford the program.

She also said the legislation doesn't do enough to abolish the influence of legislative leaders, who can maintain large campaign fundraising accounts.

"Why do we persist on fooling ourselves with half-baked reforms?" she asked.

Bill Schluter, a former state senator who backs public campaign financing and chaired a special state commission on it, urged legislators to ask voters this fall to approve a statewide public campaign financing program for primary and general legislative elections.

"Certainly, this referendum would be a clear indication of how serious New Jerseyans are about reform," Schluter said.

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