TRENTON — Independent gubernatorial candidate Christopher Daggett wants to institute a "luxury tax" on wealthy self-funding political candidates, a jab at Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who spent more than $100 million of his own money to finance his political career.
Daggett suggested a 33% tax on a candidates' who raise more than twice the amount at which publicly-financed candidates are capped (currently $10.9 million for the general election), which he said might be constitutional, as opposed to limiting how much candidates could spend. . The receipts would then be distributed to the other candidates proportional to how much they raised.
The proposal is based on Major League Baseball's policy on teams that outspend a pre-set cap, but even Daggett was not sure whether the idea would actually hold up.
"I don't know if it would pass muster, but I think we need to do anything we can to limit the impact of money in politics. If you can level the playing field so that people can't come in and just buy an election, I think that is all the better for democracy," he said.
Ingrid Reed, director of the Eagleton Institute's New Jersey Project, said the idea would likely run into problems upon implementation.
"The problem with that is the Supreme Court has ruled that it is against Freedom of Speech to say how much people can spend," said Reed, who supported the New Jersey's Clean Elections program until federal court decisions in other states caused legislators to withdraw the program for at least this year. "It's good to have discussions about this, but it might be an idea that requires some more thought."
The proposal was the most novel part of Daggett's own ethics plan that he rolled out today at the State House, in which he proposed a number of reforms, some of which have already been attempted or proposed by his two major party opponents: a complete ban on dual office-holding; a ban on wheeling; ending pensions and free health coverage for part-time officials; a three year waiting period on lobbying for former elected officials; and an expansion of pay-to-play rules.
Some nuanced ideas Daggett proposed included forcing legislators who draw two public salaries to reduce the payments from their public sector job on a per diem basis for the days they spent at the State House; basing pensions on an average from the last 10 years worked instead of the highest paying three; requiring campaign donations to be posted on the Election Law Enforcement Commission's Web site within 24 hours of receipt; and making redistricting commissions draw districts with an eye towards making them more competitive.
"It is a travesty of democracy that so much gerrymandering is done to limit competition in legislative and congressional districts," said Daggett.
But Corzine was not the only candidate Daggett said had ethics problems. He said that Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie, having gone through a rocky single term as a Morris County freeholder, "was able to buy himself a new career as U.S. Attorney by raising a lot of money for George W. Bush's presidential campaign."
Daggett said that the news of Christie's donation to former subordinate U.S. Attorney staffer Michele Brown would help drive disaffected voters to his campaign.
"I'm troubled, as many people are, when you have a candidate who is basically a one issue candidate and has spent all this time on the ethics issue and said he had a lapse in judgment, or a misunderstanding, or whatever it happens to be, when he's prosecuted people for similar activities," he said. "I think anything that happens that makes people cynical about the current system and the problems in both parties manifest itself in people coming to my campaign."
A Quinnipiac poll from this month put Daggett's support at 7%, but he said he was encouraged by an internal Democratic poll that showed him at 10%.
Governor Corzine last year introduced a slew of sweeping reform proposals but has had trouble getting key ones introduced in the legislature. When reporters asked Christie asked how he would get his reform measures passed, he said that he would work with the legislature but "shame them" into passing them if they initially refused. Daggett disagreed with Christie's approach, saying he thinks the public – and soon the legislature – will recognize the need for reform.
"I don't like to take the approach that I'm going to shame them into something. I don't think that's the way to do it," he said.
The Christie and Corzine campaigns declined to respond to Daggett's criticism, but Republican State Committee spokesman Kevin Roberts said that Daggett "is engaging in the same type of negative campaigning he's criticized in recent weeks."
"If he intends on running a negative campaign to get some headlines for himself, he should stop pretending otherwise. You can't have it both ways."