[From Press of Atlantic City]New Jersey’s Conservative Party, Green Party and Libertarian Party may not agree on much – but a year ago, they agreed they were all getting the shaft.New Jersey law does not treat them the same way it treats the dominant Democratic and Republican parties. So this coalition of “third parties,” along with the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, filed suit against the state – and last week, all sides agreed to a settlement that brings a little more democracy to New Jersey.
Right now, in the midst of campaigns for every seat in the Legislature, many New Jersey voters probably are coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that there isn’t enough difference between the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate. The settlement of this lawsuit, and the accompanying Superior Court order, should make things a little more interesting the next time around.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster’s order recognizes the Greens, Libertarians, and Conservatives as political parties for campaign-finance purposes. That determination allows the alternative parties to set up statewide political committees that can raise money at the same level as the Democrats and Republicans and make unlimited contributions to their respective candidates. (Of course, here in the land of faux campaign “reform,” those levels are currently set way too high – but the playing field should at least be equal for all parties.)
Formerly, these third parties were treated like political action committees rather than political parties. That meant they had stricter, lower limits on the size of the political contributions they could accept and the amounts they could give to candidates.
Shuster’s order also requires the state Division of Elections to create a new party-declaration form that includes the New Jersey Conservative Party (the Green and Libertarian parties were already on the form). The judge also ordered that a list of parties on the state voter-registration form be deleted.New Jersey still has the most restrictive definition of “political party” in the country – a definition established in 1920 by (you guessed it) the Democratic and Republican parties.
The settlement of this suit and Shuster’s order, which was based on a 2001 Appellate Division ruling that took the first step toward modifying New Jersey’s rules, inject a needed measure of fairness into the electoral process.
At the very least, the Conservative, Green and Libertarian parties – along with future political parties perhaps not yet even contemplated – should have the ability to raise as much money (and generate as much campaign mischief) as the Democrats and the Republicans.