Assembly Democrats News

Assembly Panel Clears Measure Reauthorizing Clean Elections For 2009 Legislative Cycle

Measure Would Expand Public-Financing Initiative to Primary Elections, Clamp Down on Overall Costs

Assembly Democrats News Release — Thursday, June 12, 2008

Contact
Assemblyman Greenwald
(856) 435-1247
John Duthie
(609) 292-7065

TRENTON — Bipartisan legislation Assemblyman Louis Greenwald sponsored to reauthorize and expand the state's landmark Clean Elections pilot program for the 2009 legislative elections was released today by an Assembly committee.

"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 Greenwald (D-Camden), a participant in the state's first Clean Elections pilot program in 2005. "Over the past four years, we have seen the transformation of Clean Elections from quaint concept to workable reality. The goal of creating a system that can work statewide clearly is within sight."

The bipartisan reauthorization measure (A-100) – also sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) – would enact a series of reforms aimed at enhancing the successful 2007 pilot program.

The bill would expand Clean Elections financing to qualifying primary election candidates, increase the number of participating districts from three to eight, and ensure funding parity for third-party candidates.

Under the bill, the eight participating legislative districts would be selected by in a two-pronged approach. Four districts would be selected by the Assembly Speaker and the Minority Leader; the remaining four districts would be chosen by a bipartisan selection panel through an application process open to candidates in the remaining 36 legislative districts.

Standards for receiving Clean Elections financing would remain at the levels set for the 2007 pilot program – when 16 of 20 candidates qualified for the program. Candidates would be required to obtain at least 400 contributions of $10 from voters registered in their legislative district.

Candidates would again be able to raise up to $10,000 in "seed money" with which to finance their qualification efforts. Seed money contributions would be capped at $500.

Funding for qualifying candidates would be significantly lower than the 2007 program, when candidates in a competitive split district were able to garner $526,375 in public financing. Under the reauthorization measure, grant would be capped at $150,000 per candidate – $75,000 would be available in the primary, with another $75,000 maximum grant available for the general election.

"The main problem facing Clean Elections has always been finding the right level of funding that will be mindful of taxpayers while ensuring candidates have the money they need to connect with voters," said Greenwald. "We believe that balance has now been reached."

Candidates running for the Conservative, Green, and Libertarian parties would be eligible for equal funding, a decision based on a 2007 New Jersey Superior Court consent decree requiring those parties to be officially recognized by election officials.

The 2009 pilot program also would include rescue funds up to $150,000 for both the primary and general election to help qualified candidates fend-off privately funded independent attacks. Rescue funds received in the primary could not be used to finance general election activities.

Under the bill, qualified candidates must participate in at least one debate in the primary election campaign and at least two debates prior to the general election. Certified candidates would be entitled to ballot identification as a "Clean Elections Candidate," as well as a ballot statement of 250 words.

"These changes continue our steady progress toward a fair and workable system that will benefit voters and candidates alike," said Greenwald. "These revisions will enhance the ability of dedicated, hard-working candidates who believe sound public policy ideas should be more important than fundraising to run under the Clean Elections banner."

The Assembly State Government Committee released the bill by a vote of 4–1. It now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Copyright 2008 Assembly Democratic Majority

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