Monday, April 11, 2005
As Lauren Kidd reports in the Asbury Park Press, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) recently deadlocked 2-2 on whether to allow gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester to participate in two upcoming primary debates. The reason: because Forrester is largely bankrolling his candidacy with his own wealth instead of abiding by voluntary spending limits, it is unclear whether he meets the qualifying standard for the debate - $300,000 raised in amounts of $3,000 or less for publicly financed candidates.
Commissioner Albert Burstein, who voted against Forrester's participation on the grounds that it might advantage Forrester even further than his personal fortune already does, asked: "Are we giving Mr. Forrester an added advantage on top of the personal wealth he plans to put into his campaign?"
As long as Forrester opts out of the voluntary system of public financing and voluntary limits, he opts out of the debates sponsored by that public financing. No one is forcing him to use his millions to run for office. If he wants a true debate, he should go out and develop public support just like all the other candidates instead of using his riches as a steroid to artificially pump up the legitimacy of his campaign.
While holding Forrester responsible for his decisions is fair, keeping him out of the debate won't solve the problem of wealthy candidates using their millions or billions as a crutch to prop up their campaigns.
A better long-term answer to the wealth problem is a spending limit for candidates like Vermont's, which was upheld last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Vermont's low contribution limits and spending limits were a big factor in its gubernatorial candidates holding a dozen debates during the 2004 campaign. A mandatory spending limit, combined with a couple other reforms like low contribution limits and public financing of elections, will go a great way towards restoring our government to the people. Then, every candidate would be on a level playing field, and all should then be required to debate.
The Election Law Enforcement Commission has ruled that Forrester can participate in the debates.