New Jersey Herald

'Clean Elections' Raises Questions

Democrats gave some of their money to other candidates

New Jersey Herald — Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Democratic candidates in the 24th Legislative District have contributed more than $4,000 in "clean elections" funds to their fellow candidates on the county and municipal levels.

While such donations are common practice in political campaigns, and permitted under the "New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project," their Republican opponents and some political analysts said the Democrats should not be using taxpayer dollars received through the program to support other candidates. "The intent of the funds is to fund their own campaigns. That doesn't sound like it's funding their campaigns," said Ingrid Reed, policy analyst with the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "It seems like it doesn't meet the purposes of 'Clean Elections."'

Democratic Senate candidate Ed Selby and his Assembly running mates Toni Zimmer and Pat Walsh said they wanted to assist other Democrats in order to boost their own grassroots campaigning efforts. Some of the local candidates are helping the state contenders to reach out to voters and make sure they get to the polls in the Nov. 6 election, Selby said.

"What we're doing is strengthening their campaigns, so they're able to help us more effectively," Selby said. "It is part of our campaign strategy. It is within the rules."

Of the $46,744 spent on their campaign by last week, Selby, Zimmer and Walsh have donated $4,255 to 14 sets of candidates or party committees in Sussex, Hunterdon and Morris counties, according to their Oct. 9 campaign finance reports. Selby donated $1,835, and Zimmer and Walsh contributed $735 and $1,685, respectively. The district, which was one of three to be selected for the program, includes all of Sussex and parts of the other two counties.

Through the clean elections program, the Democrats raised $7,129 in "seed money" and $16,720 worth of $10 contributions to qualify for $168,590 in public financing, according the reports. Their combined war chest is $192,409.

With more qualifying contributions. Republican Senate candidate Steve Oroho and Assembly candidates Alison Littell McHose and Gary Chiusano received $270,990 in public dollars, and now have a combined campaign fund of $323,325, according to their reports. The Republicans spent $54,076 by Oct. 9, but they have not made any contributions to other campaigns, reports show.

During their own primary election, which was not involved in the clean elections program, Oroho contributed $400 to other candidates and McHose donated $5,195, but McHose said the difference is that the Democrats are transferring public dollars to other campaigns. An Assemblywoman since 2003, McHose said she is preparing legislation to close that "loophole" in the clean elections regulations.

"The key is to cut down on wheeling of money," McHose said. "I'm a good government person. I want to see that taxpayer dollars are used wisely."

Many of the other expenses listed on all six candidates' reports include mailing costs, event tickets, consulting fees and advertisements as well as $866.69 for McHose's cell phone, according to the reports. Throughout the year, she pays for that phone out of her campaign account, McHose said.

"It is allowable by law," she said. "Primarily, this is my office phone."

Some of the Democrats' contributions went to Sussex County candidates who are facing a financial struggle against their Republican opponents.

Selby, for instance, donated $100 each to Democratic county freeholder candidates Jacobi Cronen and Chris Wyman, and County Clerk candidate Elizabeth Kaplan. Cronen said she has raised about $2,800, and W^Tnan and Kaplan have pledged to not spend more than $3,500 each, but Republican freeholder candidates Hal Wirths and Parrott, and Republican County Clerk Erma Gormley have about $40,000 collectively on hand.

"They need the money. They don't have what Republicans have," Zimmer said. "Clean Elections is all about where you get the money from, not how you spend the money."

The "clean elections" pilot project allows the candidates to spend their funds like any other candidate running a political campaign, said Frederick Herrmann, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

"It has to be reported properly. As long as it's been reported, it's legal," Herrmann said. "Our job is to just have transparency It's up to the media and public to determine an appropriate use of the money."

Labeling the criticism as a Republican distraction from the important issues facing voters, Walsh said he thought it was appropriate to assist other Democratic campaigns, adding that he delivered a $500 check to the County Democratic Committee "because I support the Democratic cause in Sussex County."

Marilyn Carpinteyro of New Jersey Citizen Action, the state's largest citizen watchdog coalition, which is pushing for a statewide clean elections pro- gram, said her organization does not support spending those funds on other campaigns. That clause needs to be reevaluated at a later date, Carpinteyro said.

"We don t support clean candidates diverting funds to candidates not participating in the program," Carpinteyro said. "That's not the objective of the program."

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