Taxpayer funding of NJ election campaigns makes “pay to play” politics even worse!

Because I was a candidate for Governor last year, the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission asked me to comment on NJ’s taxpayer financing of election campaigns at its hearing in Trenton on March 18. ?

My name is Seth Grossman.? I am now the Executive Director of Liberty and Last year, I was a candidate for Governor against Chris Christie in the Republican Primary at the height of his popularity.

I was not covered by any TV, radio station, or daily newspaper.?? I was not permitted to call in to the most popular talk radio programs?even on days when Governor Christie hosted is ?Ask the Governor? program.

But I was a serious candidate.??? More than 100 volunteers around the state gathered roughly 1,300 signatures for my nominating petition.? I collected roughly $10,000 in donations from several hundred people with $500 being the ?largest donation.?? On election day, I got just over 18,000 votes or about 8% of the total.

If my campaign had as little as $50,000 to $100,000 I could have delivered my message to enough people to have generated news coverage for both me and the issues I supported.?? And I could have received enough votes to have forced Governor to respond to them?and even to wake up to the problems within his administration that later caused Bridge-gate

What issues did I discuss between February and June of ?last year. You can still see them posted on my inactive campaign website at

Those issues included the following:

1. ??Refuse to pay any state debt not approved by voters as required by our State Constitution.???? (Like raising gasoline tax to repay unconstitutional highway debt).

2. ?Stop the Pension Ponzi Scam.?? (Make pension funds solvent by capping public pensions at $50,000 per year and stop paying pensions to part-time politicians.)

3. ?Distribute the Property Tax Relief Fund (Money collected from the income tax) equally to every school district in the state based on the number of students.

4. ?Cut tolls for bridges and tunnels to only amounts needed to repair/maintain them.

5. ?Stop padding electric bills for corporate welfare, wind turbine, solar panel, and ?societal benefits? charges.

6. ?Cut the high price of insurance in New Jersey by fixing fee shifting laws so that lawyers don?t get paid more than what they recover for their clients.

All six of these issues from my campaign last year:

A. ??Offered real solutions to real problems.

B. ?Had support of many New Jersey voters.

C. ?Threatened profits and privileges biggest campaign donors.

D. ?Were opposed by both Democratic and Republican leaders in NJ

New Jersey?s Public Financing Law forces every taxpayer in the state to contribute to every candidate for Governor who applies and qualifies for public funds.

Every year, a question on every New Jersey Income Tax Return asks:? ?Do you wish to designate $1 of your taxes for this fund??? Yes? or No?.?? Every year I check ?No?.

What is the purpose of that question?? ?I have never seen any published report showing how many taxpayers check ?Yes? ?and how many ?No?.??? I have never heard a single Governor, State Senator, Assembly Representative say ?Let?s keep this program because most taxpayers? are checking ?Yes?, or ?Get rid of it because most are checking ?No??.

Nobody pays an extra dollar of taxes by checking ?Yes?.? ?Nobody gets a dollar back by checking ?No?.??? The Legislature and the Governor put the same amount of our tax money into this program no matter which box we check.

So why do we have that question???? Is it a Big Lie to fool people into thinking that voluntary contributions pay for this program?? ??The truth is that every single taxpayer in New Jersey is forced to contribute to the campaigns of certain candidates, but not others.

And which candidates get public campaign money??? Aren?t they the establishment candidates ?who already control the system with their ?pay to play? politics???? Doesn?t public financing simply encourage pay to play politics by forcing taxpayers to add $2 to every $1 paid to a politician for a dirty deal.What ?public good? is served by giving them public money?

Suppose ?someone wants a contract, permit, loan or ?tax abatement from the government, and gives ?$3,800 to a candidate for Governor willing to help.?? How does public financing give him less ?access? by forcing every taxpayer to add another $7,600 to that ??gift??

Why would someone like that give one dime to someone like me who believes in liberty and simple laws that treat everybody equally?

Also, who would give that kind of money to someone like me before the April 1 deadline? more than two months before the June primary elections.

This is no problem for people who make their living from politics.??? That is their life, and they have no problem getting their deals lined up by Christmas.

But most people don?t pay attention to elections until they know which candidates qualified and are on the ballot?something not known until a few days after April 1.

And so New Jersey?s system of public financing ends up giving taxpayer money to only those candidates bankrolled by the special interests that public financing was supposed to protect us from!

Yes, Brett Schundler qualified for public financing in 2001, and Steve Lonegan in 2009.?? But didn?t both of those candidates have to spend years building up organizations that were the equivalent of establishment organizations.???? And wasn?t the law changed to make it almost impossible for them to do the same thing again?

So ?what is the solution??? I agree that public money should not go to frivolous candidates with no following or chance of winning.??? But? we should not declare that only those who succeed at “pay to play” ?campaign contribution racket are “serious” candidates.

The most obvious answer is using petition signatures as another way to show serious support.?? Right now, a candidate for Governor needs 1,000 voter signatures to be on the ballot.?? As one who got those signatures, I can assure you that it took enormous effort and organization.???? I met several capable and effected political leaders who tried and failed to make that threshold.

Why not allow candidates to prove they are ?serious? by getting an enhanced number of signatures as a substitute for money.?? Steve Lonegan qualified for matching funds by getting more than $340,000 of private donations.?????? But he also got roughly 8,000 signatures on his nominating petition.

Roughly 225,000 voters cast ballots in the 2013 Republican Primary Election.??? In my opinion, any primary election candidate who can collect and file 2% of that amount, or 4,500 is a serious candidate entitled to public financing, with additional funding being made available by the collection of additional signatures during the campaign. ? ?SETH GROSSMAN, Executive Director

  • Seth Grossman

    Seth Grossman is executive director of Liberty And Prosperity, which he co-founded in 2003. It promotes American liberty and limited constitutional government through weekly radio and in-person discussions, its website, email newsletters and various events. Seth Grossman is also a general practice lawyer.

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