New Jersey’s experiment with publicly-financed elections fails to merit any future renewal or expansion, according to the Center for Competitive Politics’ analysis of a report issued Friday by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission on the state’s "clean elections" pilot program.
A review of the pilot project’s stated goals reveals that most were either misguided or undelivered upon in the state’s 2007 experiment with public financing.
The "clean elections" pilot program did not increase competitiveness. 4 out of 6 races were less competitive under the government-subsidy program in 2007 than they were under a system of voluntary, private contributions in 2003.
Every incumbent in clean election districts who ran in the general election secured reelection.
The winning margins for Republican candidates in the strongly Republican increased under the pilot project, and winning margins for Democrats in the Democratic candidates also increased under the pilot project.
Races in districts where candidates raised voluntary contributions from citizens also had a higher share of competitive races than the districts with taxpayer financing.
The 2007 election results show no concrete correlation between "clean elections" and increased voter turnout. Voter turnout in 2 out of the 3 pilot program districts were either unchanged, or turnout decreased slightly.
Turnout in the Republican-leaning 24th district increased compared to the 2003 election. The increase could be attributed to a number of factors independent of the district being a "clean elections" district.
For example, in the 2003 election the district only had a partial slate of Democrats running.
Republicans in 2007 may have been more motivated by "hot button" ballot questions, like the stem cell research bond issue, that can drive conservatives to the polls. Republican voters may have also been motivated by their dissatisfaction with the leadership of Democrats at the statehouse.
Similarly, comparing turnout statewide to turnout in the "clean elections" districts offers no correlation that "clean elections" increase voter turnout. Voter turnout in District 37, a Democratic-leaning district, mirrored the statewide turnout.
Voter turnout in Republican-leaning District 24 was slightly above the statewide turnout but that may be due to other factors discussed above.
District 14 saw voter turnout significantly above the statewide average. However, District 14 is a competitive district. Competitive races naturally drive people more people to the polls, as was the case in District 14 under traditional financing in 2003.
Clean elections will not end the "undue influence" of special interest money.
Academic studies reveal that campaign contributions do not "corrupt" the political process or alter legislative outcomes. Campaign contributions follow ideology and legislators vote according to their beliefs, the opinion of their constituents, and the views of their party.
A study released this month by Pew Charitable Trusts, which funds many of groups that advocate for campaign finance regulations, found that the many of the best governed states in the nation have the least restrictive campaign finance laws. There appears to be no correlation between strict campaign finance laws and well-governed states.
A CCP study of "clean election" programs in Maine and Arizona revealed that the programs had no impact on the number of lobbyist registrations in the state.
Government-financed elections will not improve the unfavorable opinion of the political process held by many in the state.
A study by political scientists Jeffrey Milyo and David Primo found that government-financing can actually decrease confidence in government. The study revealed that public-financing can have "a statistically negative effect on public views about whether ‘people have a say’ in their government or whether ‘officials care.’"
Clean elections district did not reduce campaign spending. The District 14 race was the fourth most expensive race in the state.
Candidate spending in Arizona increased substantially after government-financing was enacted. The average House candidate spent 55 percent more and the typical senate candidate spent 80 percent more money after their "clean" election law was passed.
Candidates spend money on elections to educate voters about their positions on issues. Even if "clean elections" succeed at reducing the amount of money spent on campaigns they are really simply reducing the amount of information available to voters.
"Clean elections" will not end negative campaigning and will not eliminate outside money from being spent in political campaigns.
Senate candidates in the 14th District accused each other of conducting unfair or dirty campaigns.
An independent advocacy grouped called "Common Sense America" spent considerable sums of money running negative advertisements against candidate Linda Greenstein.