Turner Clean Elections Measure Through Committee

TRENTON – The Senate State Government Committee today approved “The 2007 New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project Act” sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner.

“As the Legislature has attempted to hash out the issue of property tax reform, we are learning why this is an issue of paramount concern to the citizens of New Jersey,” said Senator Turner. “New Jersey residents need property tax reform, yet their own representatives cannot agree on any one idea because there are too many interests involved in the decision making.”

Under Senator Turner’s bill, 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.

“New Jersey residents are tired of the same old song and dance at the State House. They are demanding a change and we need to offer it,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “They want to get ‘big money’ out of our elections and return to elections that are focused on issues and connecting with voters.”

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.

“Other states have shown that it works. If we want to restore accountability to the residents of New Jersey and bring honor and integrity to New Jersey politics, public financing of elections is the way to go,” added 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.

“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.”

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.

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.

“We want to make sure that participation in the clean elections program is always a positive for candidates. Candidates will get more money if their opponents decide to buck the program and spend more money,” said Senator Turner.

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 2005 clean elections pilot was not the rousing success we had hoped it would be, but the idea still has a great deal of merit. We’ve taken the lessons learned two years ago and made a stronger program this year,” explained Senator Turner.

The bill appropriates $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 as outlined by the act.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 4-1. It now goes to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for their approval before going on to the full Senate.

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