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Sunday, September 14, 2008

GOP continues to celebrate reported death of Clean Elections

The vigor with which some New Jersey Republicans have danced upon the reported grave of the Clean Elections efforts could be taken as evidence of how they feel about the importance of the will of the voters, versus the importance of the will and financial support of special interests.

That's what publicly financed elections are really all about - limiting the actual or perceived corrupting influence of large campaign contributions in elections, because the voters should decide the race, and not the presence of large amounts of cash from special interests.

But Clean Elections and similar programs throughout the nation are now in jeapordy, because of a federal court decision to halt a similar publicly-financed election system in Arizona that has been hailed as the first of many instances where courts, relying on a recent Supreme Court opinion, will strike down publicly-financed elections.

The Supreme Court decision found the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment" in federal campaign law unconstitutional. The amendment reduces the restrictions on the size of contributions publicly-funded candidates can accept when they face a self-funded candidate who spends enough to reach a certain amount of money.

The court ruled that such a measure hampers the free speech right of a self-funded candidate to spend as much money on their own election as they please, because they know that doing so would give their opponent a possible advantage, in being able to accept larger contributions.

Now portions of state public-finance law that provide extra money to publicly-funded candidates, when facing abnormally large expenditures being made in support of a privately-funded opponent, have been similarly called into question, and New Jersey's Clean Elections system has such a feature.

Since then, a slew of New Jersey's Republican legislators have issued a long stream of public statements, press releases, and announcements calling on members of the Democratic majority to permanently shelve future Clean Elections legislation.

The new Clean Elections bill, A-100, would have expanded and enhanced the program following its success in District 14, where both Democratic and Republican candidates accepted public funds and won closely-watched elections.

The district 14 Clean Elections program succesfully provided public money to the candidates to run their campaigns, instead of relying on private contributions from individuals, firms, or other interests that usually come with an expectation of something in return at some point down the line.

But apparently what happened in that legislative district was not to the liking of Republican legislators like Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, R-Sussex. They continue to celebrate what they hope is death of special interests-free elections and howl to their opponents across the aisle, calling for the Democratic supporters of Clean Elections to permanently shelve the system.

Perhaps the program can be revised to pass constitutional muster, or maybe additional court cases will determine that rescue money and the "Millionaire's Amendment" are not equivalent, saving the Clean Elections program.

Whatever the case, we hope the Assemblywoman McHose and the others don't get what they want. The Clean Elections program is a good idea, and without it, the voters of this state will be worse off during any future elections.

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