Working “within the laws,” Libertarian candidates look to be competitive

As the Libertarian candidate for State Assembly in the 14th district, Jason Scheurer stands in line with his party when it comes to curbing government power. On his website he promises never to “raise taxes, ever”, “accept a government pension”, or “increase the power of government over your life”. But despite his small-government rhetoric, Scheurer is looking to subsidize his campaign with up to $50,000 in state grants.

Scheurer’s 14th district, along with the 24th and 37th districts will host the Fair and Clean Elections program’s debut this fall. If certified as a Clean Elections Candidate, Scheurer would be eligible to subsidize his campaign with state funds. Doing so however puts Scheurer at odds with his party’s platform, which calls “for an end to any tax-financed subsidies to candidates or parties.”

Shane Cory, Executive Director of the National Libertarian Committee explains his party’s position: “We don’t think that taxpayers should be burdened with the responsibility of funding candidates”.

While Scheurer’s acceptance of tax dollars to fund his campaign may be contrary to core Libertarian beliefs, Cory says he “can’t criticize a tough position”.

“The decision to operate within laws is fair competition,” says Cory, who admits that often the best chance for a third party candidate to “stay competitive” is simply to “abide by the rules”. For Libertarian candidates this means accepting public funds, although doing so counters Libertarian ideals, Cory explained.

This is just the case for Scheurer, explains campaign manager Lou Jasikoff.

“We are not for public financing of campaigns, which forces taxpayers to support candidates they don’t want to support,” said Jasikoff, who sees his candidate’s dilemma as a forced hand. “We’re working for change, but to get involved in the game we’ve got to play it.”

David P. Rebovich, managing director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics refers to the issue as “paradoxical” but cites that parties advocating property taxes and tax cuts regularly use taxpayer funds to get their message out, “there’s a contradiction, but I don’t think it’s an enormous one”.

Of the nine Libertarian candidates running for Assembly in the fall, only Scheurer and running mate Ray Cragle will campaign in a clean elections district — no Libertarian candidates are on the ballot in the 24th or 37th districts. Cragle has chosen to participate in the Fair and Clean Elections program as well, but Jasikoff, the New Jersey Libertarian State Chairman, told PoliticsNJ.com that Cragle plans to decline public funds.

As the Libertarian gubernatorial candidate against incumbent Christine Todd Whitman and James McGreevey in 1997, Ramapo College Professor Murray Sabrin was the state’s first third-party candidate to qualify for matching funds and participate in debates. Sabrin accepted $322,000 in state funds despite raising just over $200,000 privately. Among Sabrin’s critics at the time was commentator Steve Adubato who in a 1997 column chastised Sabrin’s justification for accepting the funds because “the rules are different when you are the beneficiary of it.”

Sean Colon, a Libertarian candidate for Assembly in the 22nd district, supports Scheurer and Cragle in their decision to seek public financing. “It’s a balance of principle and pragmatism,” says Colon who sees their decision as a “means to the end situation”.

Even with public financing, being a third party candidate isn’t easy. As of August 20th, Jasikoff reports that the Scheurer campaign has collected just 200 of the 400 qualifying contributions needed to certify Scheurer as a “Clean Elections Candidate” on the November ballot. Jasikoff criticizes the program, which he says gives Democratic and Republican candidates an unfair advantage in fundraising.

According to the Fair and Clean Elections website, the program allows qualified independent candidates to receive up to $50,000 in state grants, while Democratic and Republican counterparts can, in some cases, collect over $500,000 in state money. Jasikoff calls the money factor “outrageous,” but credits the program for taking special interests out of campaigns, “They’ve done a good job making it clean, now they just need to make it fair”.

Scheurer and Cragle face Democratic incumbent Linda Greenstein and her running mate, Wayne D’Angelo, and Republicans Tom Goodwin and Adam Bushman.

Working “within the laws,” Libertarian candidates look to be competitive