New Coalition To Fund Clean Elections Program

CourierPostOnline — Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gannett State Bureau

TRENTON — While advocates push for a bigger, better Clean Elections program in 2009, Gov. Jon S. Corzine still has no plans to fund the publicly funded elections in next year's Assembly primaries.

Following pilot programs to test publicly funded elections that have had mixed results, advocates announced a new coalition Monday to fund and expand the program at a time when legislators debate a budget filled with cuts.

Among their demands are common gripes good-government types have had with how the program was established in 2005 and 2007: give equal funding to third-party candidates, sufficiently fund the program's promotion and enforcement and include primaries, where the real competition occurs in many districts.

For primaries to be included, they would have to be funded in the budget that's due by July 1. Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposal has no such funding. Corzine's spokesman Jim Gardner said the governor is proceeding as if the 2009 experiment won't apply to primaries until the Legislature has a proposal.

"The governor has been and remains a supporter of Clean Elections," Gardner said via e-mail. "Regarding primaries, it is up to the Legislature to craft a specific proposal, which in turn would be judged on its merits."

Advocates, both citizens and elected officials, said they will keep fighting for primaries.

"We want that funding in this budget," said Marilyn Carpinteyro of New Jersey Citizen Action, a member of the Clean Elections coalition that wants roughly $7 million to fund the 2009 program.

Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, D-Camden, couldn't be reached for comment but has said primaries could be included even though the administration didn't budget for it. In December, Roberts asked the administration to include the program in its budget proposal.

"Speaker Roberts has every intention to fight for continued funding for Clean Elections," Roberts spokesman Derek Roseman said via e-mail. "If Clean Elections is to be expanded to include next spring's primary elections, as is planned, it is absolutely essential that the initiative be maintained in this year's budget."

Assemblywoman Amy H. Handlin, R-Monmouth, a member of a bipartisan group of lawmakers working on drafting legislation to authorize the 2009 program, said she had been working under the assumption primaries would be funded.

"There is strong sentiment amongst the members of the working group to find a way to include primaries in 2009," Handlin said.

Clean Elections gives candidates public funds for their campaigns if they give up traditional fundraising to get nominal contributions from constituents, in hopes of ridding elections of special-interest money. In last year's program, 16 candidates in three trial districts qualified for more than $4 million in public funding, but sponsors want to lower the amounts given to candidates.

Copyright 2008 Courier-Post

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