Welfare for Politicians

Last fall, the state conducted its second “Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project” which included state Senate and Assembly races in legislative districts 14, 24, and 37. The first pilot project took place in 2005 and included assembly races in two legislative districts –the 6th and 13th. This month, the legislature will consider a bill expanding this taxpayer subsidized political campaign scam far beyond its current level, which cost taxpayers over $4 Million in 2007 — including $625,000 for one candidate alone.

A supplement to the “2007 Fair and Clean Elections Report” by the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting First Amendment political rights highlighted the problems with this program.

CCP’s analysis compared the stated policy goals of the pilot program with the actual outcomes and drew on the experiences of Arizona and Maine, two states that served as the model for the New Jersey scheme, to offer a fact-based analysis of the impact of taxpayer-subsidized political campaigns in the Garden State.

Sean Parnell, CCP president, said the “experiment with taxpayer-financed political campaigns finds that it failed to live up to its promises. Unfortunately for New Jersey taxpayers, they got stuck footing the bill for these broken promises and will continue to pay millions more in the future if this program is reauthorized.”

According to the CCP report, the pilot project failed to level the playing field by making elections even less competitive than they had been. In addition, the project failed in its goals of improving public opinion of the political process, reducing campaign spending, increasing voter turnout, ending negative campaigning and preventing out-of-state money from influencing New Jersey elections.

Now, as the legislature considers its third attempt at taxpayer-subsidized political campaigns, many legislators and advocacy groups are pointing out the failure of taxpayer subsidized campaigns and calling for the elimination of any future pilot programs.

“By almost all accounts, forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for political campaigns has failed,” said Assemblywoman Alison McHose (R-Sussex), “New Jersey is broke and we have the highest taxes in the nation. Politicians should fund their own campaigns, not ask the taxpayers for a handout.”

“In one district, the so-called ‘Clean Elections’ program turned out to be nothing more than a taxpayer subsidy to pro-public employee politicians,” Assemblyman Michael Doherty (R-Warren) noted, “This taxpayer financing freed up hundreds of thousands of public employee labor union PAC dollars to be spent in other races, and was clearly a significant reason why Republicans once again did not make any legislative gains in 2007.”

Independent expenditures continued in spite of the taxpayer subsidy. The CCP report notes that in Maine, independent expenditures have increased exponentially since taxpayers have begun footing the bill for political campaigns.

“No matter how hard government tries, it simply can’t keep citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights,” Parnell, the CCP president, explained. “And as the number of independent expenditures increases, so too will the cost to the taxpayers. And the cycle will go on and on and on with the hard pressed taxpayer getting a bigger and bigger bill.”

In addition to the program’s shortcomings highlighted in the CCP report, Assemblywoman McHose (R-Sussex) criticized the concept of government-financed elections as being fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment.

“Citizens should be able to choose to support candidates of their choice and not be forced to fund the campaigns of politicians with whom they disagree,” McHose said. “It’s simply un-American.”

This bill is scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday, June 12, at 2:00 pm in Committee Room 13, 4th Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, NJ. Sean Parnell will be testifying before the committee at this meeting.

Steve Lonegan was Mayor of Bogota, NJ, and is Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. He is a prolific writer, having been published in newspapers and blogs. He just published a book, Putting Taxpayers First: A Blueprint for Victory in the Garden State, that discusses the impact of the Trenton government on the well being of the taxpayers of the state. He offers solid and workable solutions. Learn more at lonegan.com.

Welfare for Politicians