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Thursday, February 09, 2006
Posted 5:13 PM by

A failed experiment in better Democracy

Only two of 10 New Jersey candidates eligible for public financing for their campaigns last year actually met the qualifications and it still cost taxpayers $260,000.It looks like New Jersey is slowly moving toward public financing for state-wide campaigns, following flowery praise this week for a pilot program last year that fell far short of success.

The program offered candidates campaign money from the state treasury if they raised $20,000 from 1,500 donors in their district and agreed only to take contributions of $5 or $30.

The idea was to limit the influence of party bosses, special-interest groups and political committees, which can contribute up to $8,200 to a single candidate for office in New Jersey.

The program took place in two of the 40 legislative districts last year; 10 Assembly candidates participated. They were eligible for up to $130,000 in state funds, depending on the district. But only two of them eventually qualified for the money, meaning the failure cost taxpayers $260,000.

That doesn't seem to be deterring some from trying to make it a state-wide program, though.

"We cannot allow the difficulties the candidates faced to stop this program. We need to fix the details," said Assemblyman William E. Baroni Jr., R-Middlesex and Mercer counties, a member of of the bipartisan New Jersey Citizens' Clean Elections Commission.

The commission suggested 18 changes this week at a press conference, including giving candidates more time to raise the small donations, reduce the number of required contributions, and providing a single contribution amount. The panel plans to issue proposed legislation in May.

"It's a public investment in cleaning up a culture of corruption," Baroni said.


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