TRENTON – “The 2007 New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project Act,” sponsored in the Senate by Senator Shirley K. Turner, was approved today in the Senate, and is pending final legislative approval in the Assembly later today.
“Clean elections are not Republican or Democratic issues, but rather issues for everyone who cares about the honesty and transparency of our democracy,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “The Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project will reduce the influence of special interest money and is a critical part of any reform effort moving forward.”
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.
“One’s voice in Trenton shouldn’t be tied to how much money they donate to political campaigns. Through Clean Elections financing, everyone, from big corporations to working class families, 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.
Senator Turner said, “Even though only one slate of candidates qualified for public funds in the 2005 Clean Elections pilot, we can’t let those results deter us from further attempts at public financing. We will get this right.”
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.
“Programs in other states have shown us that public campaign financing for legislative elections works. Public financing will remove the power of monied special interests in Trenton and make legislators more accountable to their constituents,” 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 – the Senate President and the Assembly Speaker would select one legislative district, the Senate Minority Leader and the Assembly Minority Leader would select another district, and all four legislative leaders together would select a third district no later than April 9, 2007. If the districts have not been selected by April 11, 2007, a five-member citizens’ committee would select the districts by April 16, 2007.
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 voter’s guide requirements, $250,000 to fund administrative expenses and $6,750,000 to provide campaign funds.
The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 23-7, and it’s expected to receive approval from the Assembly later today. If approved, it will go to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.