Citizen groups, official tout ‘Clean Elections’

Citizen groups, official
tout ‘Clean Elections’

SAYREVILLE — At a press conference held in one of the first towns in New Jersey to restrict "pay-to-play" campaign contributions, a state official and members of two advocacy groups last week urged passage of the "Clean Elections" pilot program.

Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D-19) teamed with New Jersey Citizen Action Program Director Staci Berger and AARP Capital City Task Force Co-Chairman Ken Lindhorst in promoting the program, a keystone component in the Assembly Demo-crats’ 25-point state ethics reform plan.

Wisniewski said the Clean Elections concept would help mitigate the infiltration of special interest money into the governmental policy-making process.

"For far too long, elections in New Jersey have been more about raising money than debating ideas," Wisniewski said. "Enacting Clean Elections reform would put New Jersey in the vanguard of states that are taking steps to curb the corrosive influence of money in state government affairs."

The American Association of Retired Persons and Citizen Action have highlighted the Clean Elections provision in backing the Democrats’ reform plan.

Berger said New Jersey Citizen Action supports the "broad package of reforms being proposed.

"We believe the inclusion of a Clean Elections component makes real the possibility of comprehensive campaign finance and election reform," Berger said. "It is not enough to ban certain elements of private financing. New Jersey must follow the lead of other states in providing candidates with a voluntary, constitutional and competitive public financing system. We are making history by starting that process now."

Lindhorst said AARP was pleased to see the program modeled from laws used in Maine and Arizona.

"When given a choice to fund electoral campaigns through private dollars from special interest groups or clean public dollars, there is no question that clean public dollars are the better choice," Lindhorst said.

Under the Clean Elections proposal, two competitive legislative districts — one currently held by each party — would be selected to test the use of public financing in the 2005 general election.

The pilot program would be modeled on the programs in Maine and Arizona.

To qualify as a Clean Elections candidate, those seeking office would have to prove their legitimacy by meeting a threshold amount of small contributions raised from a large number of in-district donors. They would be required to engage in at least two debates and they would receive an insignia next to their names on voting ballots and all materials identifying them as Clean Election candidates.

"Clean candidates" would qualify for public financing based on average expenditures in their districts during recent elections. Non-participating candidates would forfeit their allocations to participating candidates, according to Wisniewski’s office.

A commission would be formed to assess the 2005 pilot experience. The measure would allow four legislative districts to use the Clean Elections concept in the primary and general elections in 2007.

The Clean Elections proposal is one of 25 reforms proposed by the Assembly Democratic leadership. The package also includes components that would, for example, enact pay-to-play restrictions for state government contractors; ban no-bid state contracts, and institute restrictions on issue advertisements in elections for state office.

In early January, bills were passed to establish a ban on nepotism in legislative district offices, prohibit lawmakers from participating in multiple taxpayer-subsidized health care plans and restrict the acceptance of gifts by legislators.