Edited by Jonathan Mendilow and Eric Phélippeau
Chapter 9: Like water on pavement: political fundraising at the sub-national level – the New Jersey example
Sub-national levels of government, especially in a federal system like the United States, often have similar governmental systems as the national level. For example, in the American model, executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government are duplicated in all 50 states, though the exact powers of each is subject to wide variance. In addition, each has regularly scheduled elections for local and state offices. The similarities in political structure have allowed sub-national governments to serve as ‘laboratories’ of democracy. As such, one should expect that they will improve upon national laws, making them more efficient and effective. In the world of campaign finance, these sub-national governments have frequently taken advantage of the opportunity to adjust their own rules. Over the last 44 years, in response to public pressure resulting from campaign finance scandals, elected officials in the state of New Jersey have established new laws and regulations designed to restrict the influence of money in politics. At the same time, New Jersey continues to be perceived to be among the most corrupt states in the nation, and that reputation stems, in part, from its campaign finance regulatory regime. This chapter examines this apparent incongruity. Explanations that emerge include (1) a political culture and tradition that are both accepting of transactional politics and continue to seek reform of such a system, (2) reforms that proved to be porous even though they were designed to limit plutocratic tendencies in the system, and (3) changing federal standards that open up new avenues for influence that cannot be shut down by a sub-national response.
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