Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Clean Elections Off To A Good Start

I've made no secret that I'm a fan of removing special interest influence from elections. When someone like our own Representative Scott Garrett will vote against a bill benefiting Greenwood Lake that he previously voted for twice, apparently because a special interest group with only 40,000 members comes out against it, something is seriously wrong with the process. Nothing like watching our Representative bend our District over a barrel to ensure he gets some campaign donations and expenditures on his behalf.

At the state level, the Clean Elections program seeks to eliminate the Garrett-esque about face by removing corporate and large individual donations from the process. In the first poll released about the program, it seems it's already had a positive impact on voters. Rutgers' Eagleton Institute of Politics and Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind teamed up to review the program.

Here's what they found:
• Twice as many likely voters in the Clean Elections districts had heard quite a lot or some about the Clean Elections legislation compared to the state as a whole
(44% to 22%).
• The same was true regarding awareness of the legislative races in their districts, with 70% of likely voters in the Clean Elections districts saying they had heard quite a lot or some about the races, compared to 37% of likely voters statewide.
• Voters in the Clean Elections districts also reported having received more information than voters in the rest of the state. Eighty-two percent of likely voters in the Clean Elections Districts reported receiving campaign ads in the mail, compared to 49% statewide. Seventy-four percent of likely voters in the Clean
Elections districts said they had gotten information about the legislative races from an article or articles in the newspaper, compared to 56% statewide.
These are tangible results. Something not in the report that is also tangible was voter turnout. It's widely believed turnout earlier this month was the lowest ever for a legislative election, with estimates at 30%. That's a 4% drop in turnout from 2003, the last time the entire legislature was up for re-election, and effectively means 15.01% of the population gets to call the shots.

In the 37th District, where the Republicans did not qualify for the program, the unofficial results show a 5.9% drop in the percentage of registered voters voting for State Senator over 2003's number.

HOWEVER, in the 14th District the drop was .6% (even though 2,775 more people voted), and in the 24th turnout increased 6.1% (nearly 11,000 more voters). While still not great, State Senate voting for the 14th and 24th were 40% and 35% respectively. My hope is that when the turnout numbers are finalized by the state they will publish it by legislative district, in addition to county, since they already estimate voters before the election.

In spite of these gains, what is going to take time is restoring the public faith in our state government. Clean Elections voters polled didn't have significantly more faith in government to do the right thing compared to those outside the clean elections District:
Compared to statewide voters, voters in the Clean Elections districts were just as likely to say they:
• trust the legislature only some or none of the time to do what is right;
• are concerned that campaign money influences legislators after the election;
• are not confident that public financing of campaigns will reduce the influence of large donors in the political process.
Faith in elected officials is earned, not given, and it is incumbent upon our elected leaders to do better. It's a strong statement when only 17% of voters statewide trust the legislature to do the right thing most of the time. Often, as done in the Bergen Freeholder debate by the BCDO candidates, officials protest that they are not crooks and should not be thought of as such. However, if 83% of the public thinks that way; something either within the process or through the actions of those protesting has triggered that opinion.

If the Clean Elections Program, over time, can help restore the public faith in our elected officials it's a good thing. Ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the officials to seal the public confidence deal.

1 comment:

Eric Sedler said...

I really like the intentions of the Clean Elections program.
They need to fix a few things though:
No Rescue Money
Lower the amount of money given, especially in competitive districts. I know some campaigns don't spend all the money and give back to the state, but there's no reason the money should be that much.
If independents qualify they should get the same amount as major party candidates, no if's and's or but's.
Make it a little easier for the campaigns, I know that people had to fill out a seperate form for each candidate they contributed 10 bucks to.
I don't see this going state wide though, I don't think the majority party would be willing to give up it's money advantage and for some understandable reasons a number of people in my party are opposed to the idea.