Mount Olive Chronicle


'Clean Elections' Gain Steam

Special interests are targeted by candidates in both parties

Mount Olive Chronicle — Thursday, August 9, 2007


The underdog, Democratic candidates for state senate and assembly in the 24th District are 110 percent behind the new clean elections pilot program while the majority Republicans are participating under strong protest.

The pilot is designed to eliminate influence of special interests in the November general election by barring special interest contributions and limiting aU contributions to a maximum of $10 per person.

It also is meant to level the playing field so that candidates of minority parties should have #in easier time raising money in smaller amounts from private donors. The program is voluntary but candidates who choose not to participate risk losing as much as $100,000 in state funds. They also would be identified as receiving special interest funding by not participating in the clean elections program. Up for grabs in the 24th District are two Assembly seats and the Senate post, AU the candidates in the 24th district are participating, including the Republicans, incumbent Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose of Franklin; Assembly candidate, Gary R. Chiusano of Augusta; and Senate candidate, Steven V. Oroho of Franklin.

Democrats include Edwin Selby of Branchville for Senate and Assembly candidates Patrick Walsh of Budd Lake and Toni D, Zimmer of Sparta.

Walsh said on Sunday that the clean election program should eliminate the influence of special interests. He also said it will help candidates in races like the 24th District where the Republicans are in the majority and have more access to larger contributors. "I'm very proud to be a clean election candidate," Walsh said. "The biggest problem in New Jersey is that special interest groups are running the political campaigns."

He said the influence of special interest groups costs the taxpayers in unnecessary programs and in officials who vote not for the best interest of the public but in the best interests of the special interests.

Selby said the program opens up the election process.

"It gives a voice to people who don't have a voice," Selby said. "With the current system, the people with the biggest voice are the people with the deepest pockets."

Zimmer also said that candidates who accept special interest contributions are obligated to those interests, "A party who may not have been able to launch a lucrative campaign is able to do so with the clean election program," Zimmer said.

The 24th District is predominantly Republican and the new funding may not be enough to balance out strong Republican support. But Walsh said this may be the best shot the Democrats have had in years,

"It's definitely an uphill battle but I truly believe we have a really good shot," Walsh said.

'Leap Backwards'

But McHose said in a statement that the clean elections pilot is a "great leap backwards."

She said the current system allows candidates to reach out to any supporters for help, from neighbors to like-minded businesses.

"Like a business, you either raise the money you need to promote your candidacy or you don't," she wrote.

She said the clean elections project will reestablish the strength of party organizations because candidates will have to look to the organizations for help in collecting the numerous, $10 contributions.

McHose also said the program will cost "millions and millions" in advertising and direct funding. She called it a "harbinger of what will be spent if it is extended to 40 districts and to primary elections."

McHose, Chiusano and Oroho issued a July 6 letter to constituents in which they said the clean elections campaign will offer public money "to subsidize the Democrats in the 24th District."

"We're the guinea pigs and if we don't participate, the Democrats will just get more of our money," McHose said in the letter. She said the program was designed to help the Democrats in the 24th District. But the Democratic candidates pointed to the 37th District where Democrats are in the majority and Republicans will potentially gain through the clean elections program.

The Senate president and the Assembly Speaker together selected one district .The Senate Minority Leader and Assembly Minority Leader together selected one. The third district was picked by all four leaders.

In 2007 the program will be available for general election candidates for the Assembly and Senate, In 2009, the program is slated to be available for primary as well as general election candidates.

McHose is not the only one who sees problems with the clean elections program.

Lou Candura of Mount Olive, chairman of the Morris County Democratic Committee, said the clean elections program will help Democrats in districts where they have no funding structure.

He also said candidates will work closely with the county organization. But Candura said the pilot will not be the answer to bringing about a level playing field among candidates. Instead, he said, the media should aU agree to give equal and free time to all candidates.

Another complaint is that the program did not apply to the primary election. And the primary is the key election in the 24th District as in many districts where one party is traditionally strong.

The problem is expected to be rectified in 2009 when legislators plan to extend clean elections to aU elections, including primaries.

"We think this legislation is a significant step forward," said Marilyn Carpinteyro, regional organizer for NJ Citizen Action, a group that has been pressing for clean election campaigns for a decade.

"However, there is a significant component that needs to be addressed, the primaries," Carpinteyro said.

Another issue is that candidates who get on the ballot through petitions can qualify for a maximum of $50,000 in clean election funds. Carpinteyro said the levels should be the same for aU candidates.

Participating candidates must forgo all private campaign financing and freeze private campaign accounts.

Candidates must raise at least $4,000 and can raise no more than $8,000, in order to qualify for the clean election program.

Those who raise 400 $10 donations win receive $50,000 in state funds. Collecting 800 donations of $10 each will bring in $100,000 in state funds for the campaign.

Candidates also can raise a maximum of $10,000 in seed money to help run their campaigns. This fund can include contributions from individuals of up to $500 each.

Any candidate who raises at least $4,000 in $10 donations, also will have his or her name labeled "Clean Election Candidate" on the sample ballot and will be permitted to place a 25G-word personal campaign statement on the sample ballot.

Those who join in the pilot also agree to participate in at least two, in-district debates.

Candidates have from April 10, to Sept 30, to collect contributions and qualify for the Clean Election program.

As of last week, the Republicans were close to collecting the minimum of $4,000, Chiusano has raised $3,490, McHose has raised $3,240 and Orho has raised $4,870.

Among the Democrats, Selby has raised $2,710, Walsh has raised $2,280 and Zimmer has raised $1,720.

The 24th district includes aU of Sussex County, Mount Olive, Washington Township, Chester and Chester Township and Netcong in Morris County; and Califon and Tewksbury in Hunterdon County.

Similar pilots are being conducted in the 14th District, which includes Mercer and Middlesex counties; and the 37th District, in Bergen County.

The 2007 N.J. Fair and Clean Election Pilot Project Act was signed into law by Gov, Jon Corzine on March 28. It reauthorizes, improves and expands the 2005 pilot program.

The program was initially tried in two Assembly districts in 2005, but only two of the 10 eligible candidates raised enough small contributions to qualify for public funding.

The limits on contributions have been changed to encourage more participation.

The new law appropriates up to $6.7 million for the program.

Copyright 2007 Recorder Community Newspapers

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