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Eagleton Institute of Politics - 60th Anniversary
Eagleton Institute of Politics


Clean Elections - Concept and Purpose

An important goal of Clean Elections is to enable individuals of modest means or those without established networks of political support to run for public office.  A Clean Elections program allows candidates to focus their campaign activities on engaging the voters rather than raising campaign funds.

Clean Elections programs began in Maine during the mid-1990s as an effort to reform how campaigns are financed.  The concept is not well understood nor widely used. Its definition is not easy to find.  New Jersey statutes do not provide one.  Others have called Clean Elections the voluntary public financing of campaigns for public office.  Common Cause describes Clean Elections as “public financing of political campaigns.”  Wikipedia calls it “a system of government financing of political campaigns.”  The Center for Governmental Studies reserves the term for “full public financing.”

Although the word “clean” is often used in contrast to campaigns considered mean spirited or divisive, the term “clean elections” does not refer to how campaigns are run.  Rather, Clean Elections is a type of campaign finance reform that offers candidates for elected office an alternative to private fundraising and an opportunity to run campaigns supported with public funds.  To receive these funds, candidates must first demonstrate a threshold level of public support by collecting a minimum number of nominal contributions from registered voters.  Candidates must also agree to rely solely upon public funds for all of their campaign expenses.  Clean Elections seeks to neutralize a potential source of official corruption: the undue influence of private campaign contributors on the actions of our elected public officials.

Purposes of a Clean Election Program Found in the New Jersey Statute Establishing the 2005 Clean Election Pilot Project
The Legislature finds and declares that*:
a. It is the opinion of many residents of this State that the current system of privately-financed campaigns for office of member of the Legislature allows individuals and committees who contribute large amounts of money to have an undue influence on the political process.
b. There is also the belief among many residents that under the current system, the free-speech rights of those candidates and voters who are not wealthy are diminished because the political process is influenced by individuals and committees who can afford to spend large amounts of money on political communications.
c. The result of these beliefs is an erosion in public confidence in the democratic process and democratic institutions, leaving much of the electorate questioning whether their elected officials are accountable mostly to the major contributors who finance their campaigns.
d. It is possible that a voluntary clean money campaign finance system for legislative candidates would strengthen democracy in New Jersey by removing access to wealth as a major determinant of a citizen’s influence within the political process.
e. Establishment of a  clean elections pilot project would provide selected candidates for the office of member of the General Assembly with equal resources with which to communicate with voters, reverse the escalating cost of elections and free those candidates from the chore of raising money, thus allowing them more time to conduct their official duties and communicate with their constituents.
f. This pilot project, based on the laws currently in effect in Maine and Arizona, would be a significant step towards strengthening public confidence in this State’s democratic processes and institutions.
  * New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project, 2004 N.J. Laws 121.

Additional purposes drawn from statements by Speaker Roberts and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-14) made at the opening debate on Clean Elections:

- Eliminate dependence on money in politics in New Jersey;
- achieve competitive balance in the state’s election system;
- and encourage greater public participation in the political process,
   regardless of race or gender.