Watch out! Reformers are on the loose

Left Out

By Frank Capece

Jeff Brindle, Executive Director of the New Jersey Election Law Commission that oversees campaign contributions, is railing against the “blitzkrieg” of outside political spending in campaigns. He cites a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as the Citizens United ruling which allows unlimited independent spending in federal elections by corporations and unions as the culprit.

Perhaps Gertrude Stein had it right when she said, “when you get there, there isn’t any there there.” The point being, past reforms have left us with county political bosses, powerful political action committees and the stream of an endless barrage of fliers in our mailboxes. The reformers are at it again and we should all take notice.

Activists such as the Citizen Campaign, a New Brunswick-based group that advocates for reform, are making new arguments. They want to better regulate the paper groups of committees formed with the sole goal of avoiding campaign limitations. They want to end the practice of “wheeling,” whereby a politician or business committee contributes to a group and eventually the money ends up in a district campaign.

There is a host of noble ideas, but based on the creativity of the political-types who skirt the rules they remain very unworkable. My best buddy cautions that he who controls the money controls the message.  Maybe that’s true, but where is it written that the First Amendment guarantees an even playing field? If I want to spend big bucks to elect my secretary as a Councilwoman inIrvington, or my best buddy as Mayor of Fanwood, why should I be prohibited?

The flaw with the reformers is the subtle view that without dollar limits the voters will be led like sheep. While a lack of voter participation in elections is contemptible, that doesn’t lend to a cap on the money an individual can spend for political material.

At Halloween we send out a caution to be careful. We need to caution that reformers are also on the loose. Every time they get involved things just get worse. Take the Gloucester Republican group that wants to pass legislation ending the use of governmental employees and resources for political campaign ads. Translation: no more fliers with local politicians standing in front of police cars or backloaders showing taxpayer dollars at work.

Not to be overlooked, watch the upcoming roar over the effort by the N.J. press corps to end the State Supreme Court prohibition on interviews and pictures of voters within 100 feet of the polls for exit polling.

Last week Archbishop John Myers, during a TV interview, acknowledged the rough treatment he took at the hands of The Star-Ledger editorial page. If a group chooses to spend their money big time in defense of the Archbishop they should have the right.

For Brindle, another reality is that theTrentonfolks have severely cut his budget, limiting his ability to pursue campaign expenditure violations.

Last week both a Democratic congressional candidate, and a local Union County Republican running for local office were both portrayed as engineers, and after all, engineers are problem solvers. Left out of the notice was the fact that we had two presidents who were engineers: Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. Another problem with that pesky First Amendment is that truth and accuracy are not pre-requisites.