New Jersey Herald

Clean It Up

The "clean elections" experiment needs a little extra scrubbing

New Jersey Herald — Wednesday, October 17, 2007


New Jersey's pilot program was bound to turn up problems and weaknesses. And an interesting one showed up late last week.

Democratic candidates in the 24th District have taken public money provided for their election campaigns and doled it out to other county and municipal candidates.

That might be a common practice in privately financed campaigns, and it's allowed by the current "clean election" rules. But it violates the spirit of the test plan. The guiding idea of the pilot program is to put candidates on an even financial level and so reduce the influence of money in three test district campaigns.

Senate candidate Ed Selby defended the practice on its legality: "It is part of our campaign strategy. It is within the rules."

Clean elections activist Marilyn Caipinteyro of New Jersey Citizen Action, which pushed for a statewide public financing of campaigns, said, "That's not the objective of the program. We don't support clean candidates diverting funds."

Yet one-tenth of the Senate and Assembly candidates' spending was transferred to other candidates: $4,755 out of $47,244 total. The money went to Democratic candidates for Freeholder and Clerk in Sussex County.

One check even went to the Democratic Party of Sussex County. From a candidate to a political party courtesy of New Jersey taxpayers. The Democratic Party might be a worthy organization to give your money to. But not everybody else's tax dollars.

New Jersey Citizen Action's Carpinteyro wasn't the only one dismissing the redonation strategy. Ingrid Reed of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers, hearing of the public-to-party contributions from a reporter, said, "It seems like it doesn't meet the purposes of 'Clean Elections.'"

Public money shouldn't be used for political parties except in tightly prescribed conditions. Party primaries are an obvious one, where it's in the state's and county's best interest to control the voting process.

What's not in the state's interest is to draw money from an already fragile budget to fund county political parties.

The state needs to tighten the language of the law to prevent such donations.

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