Asbury Park Press

Clean Elections: Give It A Tweak

Asbury Park Press — Thursday, September 4, 2008

ASBURY PARK PRESS EDITORIAL

Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, D-Camden, says he will abandon efforts this year to expand New Jersey's Clean Elections law, claiming a federal court has imposed what he calls "insurmountable obstacles."

The public shouldn't fall for the crocodile tears being shed by Roberts and other disingenuous legislators who would like nothing better than to see public financing of elections fade away.

A U.S. District Court judge in Arizona issued a ruling Friday that determined a provision in Arizona's law that is similar to one proposed in New Jersey for the 2009 election cycle is unconstitutional. It would give participating candidates additional funds if candidates who opted not to accept public financing outspent them.

Rather than amending the bill, Roberts wants to bury it, at least for the 2009 elections. That would be a major setback for voters.

The legislation, which is a marked upgrade over the Clean Elections programs for the two previous election cycles, would expand public financing to eight districts and include primaries for the first time. Candidates would be able to receive up to $150,000 in public funds by agreeing to raise nominal contributions from constituents instead of traditional fund-raising from special interests. These provisions of the bill should be preserved and acted on in time for next year's elections.

"Instead of rushing to find stop-gap solutions, Clean Elections simply needs a time-out," Roberts said. A time-out is something you give a cranky toddler, not a law that promises the electorate hope for an end to the corruption that unfettered money often brings in its wake.

Clean Elections legislation is a necessity in a state that is up to its neck in the ethical swamps of special-interest money and greed. Public financing helps level the playing field between candidates with deep pockets and the backing of power brokers, and those who have neither. It is one way to make the elections fair and to expand the field of candidates. Banning pay-to-play, the practice of rewarding campaign contributors with contracts, jobs and other favors, is another.

The Legislature needs to get busy on both fronts – tweaking the Clean Elections law to allow it to survive any constitutional challenges and approving a long promised, long overdue comprehensive ban on pay-to-play.

Copyright 2008 Asbury Park Press

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