Asbury Park Press

Coming Clean For Campaign

Asbury Park Press — Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Assembly candidates in the 13th District all agreed this week to participate in the Clean Elections Pilot Project. By limiting how much they can spend on the campaign by accepting only public money, they will be part of a model that minimizes the role of money in politics and brings the candidates closer to the voters.

It's costly to run a campaign. But the influence wielded by individuals, corporations and party bosses whose large donations traditionally finance campaigns has tainted New Jersey government for far too long. By agreeing not to accept that money, these "clean" candidates lead the way in ridding the state of its costly pay-to-play problem.

This is an important experiment that carries a daunting task for the candidates. Republicans Amy H. Handlin and Samuel D. Thompson and Democrats William Flynn and Michael Dasaro must each collect 1,000 contributions of $5 and 500 contributions of $30 by early September. That adds up to individual contributions from 6,000 of the roughly 130,000 registered voters in the district. That qualifies each of them for up to $50,000 in public funding.

Another positive side effect of the project is that it brings the level of the campaign where it belongs – to the people. The candidates must each involve 1,500 of their constituents. That will effectively bring more people into the process by limiting donations to an affordable, and noninfluential, amount.

Residents of the district, which includes eight towns in northern Monmouth County and Old Bridge in Middlesex County, should get their checkbooks out to help this project prevail. Each candidate could have opted to accept large donations from far fewer supporters and raised much more money in less time. But that's how pay-to-play and special interests come in the door, with big donors expecting a return on their investment.

Voters: Write a $5 check of support to your preferred candidate to help them run without amassing a large campaign war chest. This project, which also involves the 6th District in Camden County, will be analyzed and the requirements tweaked for later elections.

Candidates: Be sincere in your efforts. You have an important role in our state, as your summer of fund raising can help begin to remove the grip that money has had on campaigns and government.

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