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Clean Elections Measure Passes Senate Budget Panel

TRENTON – The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today moved the “The 2007 New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project Act” out of committee by a party-line vote. Senator Shirley K. Turner is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill proposed by Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts.

“As the Legislature has spent more than six months on property tax reform, we have begun to see the critical importance of campaign finance reform for the citizens of New Jersey,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “Far too many special interests watered down the reform efforts. The Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project will reduce the influence of special interest money and help the voters have the loudest voice in Trenton.”

Under the bill, A-100/S-2438, candidates for the State Legislature in three selected districts would be eligible for public campaign financing by collecting $10 donations from voters. Candidates collecting 800 donations would receive at least $100,000 for their campaign.

“Too often, an individual’s influence in Trenton is directly tied to the size of his or her bank account. Through Clean Elections financing, everyone, from corporate CEOs to short order cooks, will have the same say about what happens in the halls of the State House,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer.

The bill outlines the process by which candidates in the selected districts can be certified as “clean elections” candidates. Each candidate is allowed to raise up to $10,000 in seed money, with all donations coming from individuals in amounts of $500 or less. Candidates would then be required to collect only donations of $10. Upon collecting 400 donations, candidates would receive $50,000 for campaign expenditures. Collecting 800 donations would earn them the full $100,000 in clean elections funds.

“Even though the 2005 Clean Elections pilot was not a rousing success, we can’t let those results deter us from further attempts at public financing. We will keep working on this until we get it right. We can not let our pursuit of perfection derail this effort,” explained Senator Turner.

Certified candidates seeking election from a split district would be provided with money up to a maximum of the average amount of money expended by all candidates for legislative office in that district in the two immediately preceding general elections for those offices.

“Public campaign financing works, as we have seen in other states. If we want to restore honor and integrity to New Jersey politics and make legislators accountable to their constituents and not the monied interests, then public financing is the way to go,” added Senator Turner

The bill would require certified candidates for the Assembly who are members of the same political party and in the same legislative district to seek certification and election together. Senate and Assembly candidates of the same party in the same district may independently choose whether to seek certification as a clean elections candidate. Such candidates may seek election together and coordinate their campaigns with the condition that if either the Assembly candidates or the Senate candidate does not become certified, that candidate is not permitted to coordinate his or her campaign with the certified candidate.

“Good government groups from around the State understand the importance of clean elections that rely on public funding instead of private donations,” added Senator Turner. “It’s time that Trenton embraces this concept with open arms.”

Senator Turner also noted that her clean elections program had several fairness provisions that would help qualified candidates keep up with high spending from opponents who decide to opt out of the program.

Qualified candidates can be granted up to an additional $100,000 if their non-qualified opponent spends more than the clean elections cap. Additionally, candidates can also receive up to $100,000 if their opponents benefit from expenditures from third parties and other campaigns.

Third party candidates would be able to qualify for clean election campaign funds of up to 50% of the amount allowed for the two major parties.

Under the bill, three districts would be selected – one where all three legislators are Democrats, one where all three legislators are Republicans and one where the delegation is split between the parties. The decision would be made by the Senate President, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Minority Leaders of the Senate and Assembly by March 9.

The bill would appropriate $7.675 million from the General Fund to fund the program. ELEC would receive $600,000 to effectuate its public information efforts, $75,000 for the voter’s guide requirements, $250,000 to fund the expenses incurred by the commission as a result of administering this act and $6,750,000 to provide campaign funds.

The bill passed the committee without recommendation by a vote of 8-6. It now goes to the full Senate for its approval.

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