Clean Elections Must Be Retooled For 2009

CourierPostOnline — Thursday, September 4, 2008


State lawmakers should seek to reform clean elections, not table them because of a recent court decision.

New Jersey's three-year-old clean-election program, the Legislature's attempt to limit the potentially corrupting influence of big-money donations, remained a work in progress. So far, it hasn't quite lived up to the ideal of making politicians into populist candidates, supported by hundreds of small donors and beholden to no special interest.

But New Jersey legislators deserve some credit for trying to get it right. And they shouldn't give up now, despite a recent U.S. District Court ruling in Arizona that has raised constitutional issues for New Jersey's clean-election program.

The court found unconstitutional a provision in Arizona's clean-elections law that gives participating candidates extra funds if candidates not participating in the election program or outsiders outspend them. New Jersey has a similar provision in its clean election program that could probably be easily struck down if challenged.

Faced with this vulnerability, Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, D-Camden, said Tuesday morning the state will not provide public financing to legislative candidates for the 2009 elections.

The state had proposed its most ambitious expansion yet of the clean-election program for next year's state elections. Public funding for the 2009 election cycle would have been made available for primaries and third-party candidates. It might have proved to be a major step toward limiting the influence of special-interest and party-boss money in New Jersey elections.

Lawmakers shouldn't table the whole experiment without even trying to work within the guidelines set by the federal court decision. This program might actually help clean up government.

New Jersey should hold clean elections for state Senate and Assembly seats in 2009. Roberts said he expects more guidance from Congress and the courts will help New Jersey re-launch a constitutionally valid, clean-election program. But Roberts and other state lawmakers can and should be more proactive. They should push the state's congressional delegation to make election reform an imperative.

Getting more people involved in the political process must be a priority. It will ensure this country remains a republic that exists for the people, and not just for special interests.

Copyright 2008 Courier-Post

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