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Testimony to the General Assembly State Government Committee on A-100 Clean Elections 2009


June 12, 2008

Ingrid W. Reed
Director, New Jersey Project, Eagleton Institute of Politics
Rutgers, The State University

Based on the work of the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey Project, I want to speak to A-100, the bill before you that provides for the continuation of a Clean Elections program in our state and expands the opportunity for participation in the program by including primary elections and opening the program to candidates to decide to run as Clean Election candidates. This is a positive step as this program is institutionalized, becomes a measure for which candidates can plan, and provides a basis for continued campaign finance reform.

I also want to propose ways that A-100 could expand those opportunities.   These proposals  result from the work of the New Jersey Project of Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers—the State University, where we undertake projects to enhance political understanding, involvement and participation, often in collaboration with political leaders, government agencies, the media, non-profit groups, and other academic institutions.

The work we did included studying Clean Elections in New Jersey and five others states, conducting surveys to determine New Jerseyans knowledge and attitudes, and monitoring the two pilot projects.  This year we worked with a the guidance of a Citizens Advisory Committee, a bi-partisan group of individuals well-versed in Clean Elections, to look at  the results of our work for how it could contribute to strengthening the New Jersey Clean Election program.  Support for our efforts came from the Fund for New Jersey and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. 

We concluded that past efforts in the 2005 and 2007 Clean Elections pilot projects constructively laid the ground work for a program in 2009, one that would meet the goals of Clean Elections here in New Jersey and have more similarity to the programs in other states that inspired the New Jersey program. 

Let me call your attention to a Chart that was prepared to compare the two NJ Pilot Projects, proposals from the Eagleton effort and A-100 as we recently reviewed it.  I am using the Chart to summarizes the proposals from the Eagleton research and monitoring studies and the thinking of the advisory committee.

Participation: We are very supportive of applying the Clean Election program to primaries and opening it to opt-in candidates as opposed to only candidates in designated districts. Our proposal is to open the option to run as a Clean Election candidates to those who want to run in any one of the 40 districts.  Mindful that budget constraints would make that appear to be impractical, we estimated what the cost might be based on a realistic assessment of the percentage of the candidates who might opt-in.  We used examples from others states, specifically the low figure of 30% from Arizona and Maine.  We would be glad to provide those details – and encourage you to consider more than 4 – as many as 10 - districts be open to opt-in candidates. 

Districts: In designating and selecting districts, it makes sense to select districts that have participated in previous Pilot Projects to keep the continuity of campaign activity and the voters’ familiarity with the program.  The Selection Committee as described in A-100 is a good way to proceed. 

Slates: A-100 includes a new feature requiring candidates to run as a slate. We suggest that this requirement be reconsidered in order to simplify the process and open opportunities to all interested candidates, especially those running in primary contests.

Seed Money: Most contributions in 2007 were $200 or less, the limit established for the 2005 pilot project.  Further, requiring seed money contributions to come from only new contributions, not transferred by candidates (usually incumbents) from previously raised campaign funds, would result in a more level playing field for candidates. 

Qualifying Contributions:  Continue $10 contributions in amounts of 400 and 800 to qualify as a Clean Election funds.

Public Funding:  We propose an amount of $60,000 for primary contests, lower than in A-100 (an amount that appears to be common in legislative races conducted in the past) and $20,000 for uncontested races.  In the general election, we suggest the amount in the 2007 pilot project be continued with $100,000 for districts that are not considered closely competitive.  For the competitive districts (those that are split or where the margin is 10% or less), we propose that the public fund be substantially reduced from the high of $535,000 in 2007 to $300,000.   Maintaining a two tier system reflects the expense of running a competitive race in New Jersey and provides an incentive for candidates in these competitive, and usually highly expensive, campaigns to run as Clean Election candidates and do so with a reasonable budget.

Minor Parties:  We support the full funding for minor party candidates in A-100 but propose that it be applied to all candidates without regard to parties if they collect the required  qualifying funds.

Additional Funding: As presented, similar to 2007.

Administration:  Suggestions for improved administration have been submitted to legislative staff and to ELEC.  We support the continuation of ELEC as administrator with appropriate resources and support A-100 which calls for ELEC to include recommendations in their evaluation.

In closing, I have included a list of Eagleton resources for your consideration.  We look forward to providing any assistance you might need and we want to encourage this next phase of Clean Elections in New Jersey and a full program in 2011 as part of a campaign reform agenda for our state.

Resources: Estimate of the Cost of 30% Opt-In of Clean Election candidates; Competitiveness of Districts 2001-2007;  Candidate Spending in the NJ Primaries; Candidate Participation in Other States; Clean Election Goals Summary.