July 30, 2014

Princeton is First To Push Legislation On Political Corruption

When Princeton Council approved a resolution July 14 in support of tough, new anti-corruption laws transforming how elections in this country are financed and how lobbyists influence the political process, the municipality became the first in the nation to sanction the pending legislation.

The move is intended not only in regard to national politics, but on a local level as well. “Princeton hereby includes in its legislative agenda support for efforts to pass its own anti-corruption legislation, and respectfully urges the 12th Congressional district representatives and the 16th district New Jersey state legislature to support and introduce anti-corruption legislation to the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and state legislature addressing the issues herein described,” the resolution reads.

This is encouraging news to local residents David Goodman, Susan Colby, and Debra Lambo, who have been working toward the enactment of The American Anti-Corruption Act. “This resolution places Princeton in the vanguard of a movement,” said Mr. Goodman, a retired fundraiser who is a team leader for the New Jersey District 12 Committee of Represent.Us. “The national group is seeking similar resolutions from towns and municipalities across the country. It’s a grass roots effort to impress upon legislators and Congress the need for fundamental reforms to the effects of big money on government, so they can begin to be reined in.”

Statistics on the subject “are terrifying,” Mr. Goodman said. “Politicians spend 70 percent of their time fundraising. In most cases, they are decent, hardworking people who want to do the right thing. But it’s become a necessity, if you want to get re-elected. You have to raise a lot of money. This has been distorted in a major way in terms of legislation and public policy.”

According to information in the resolution, nearly $6 billion was spent in the 2012 elections, the vast majority of which came from special interest donors. “Politicans are dependent on a tiny percentage of the population to fundraise their campaigns while ordinary voters have less and less influence,” it reads.

Mayor Liz Lempert said last week, “Princeton was the first municipality in the country to pass a resolution in support of the anti-corruption legislation because we have an active group of residents that brought the issue to our attention. The legislation is essential to fair elections and honest, representative government.”

Getting Council to consider the resolution wasn’t difficult. “We didn’t feel we were working uphill,” said Mr. Goodman. “We felt some sympathy with our interests. But it would be arrogant to say it was a slam-dunk.”

He views the passage as a kind of clarion call. “It’s to say to people, let’s overcome the cynicism and sense of despair, that it is hopeless,” Mr. Goodman said. “Of course, there are problems to be overcome. But this is a way, on a very local level, for people to say, ‘We want to stand up and be counted and make a difference, and move in a different direction.’”

On October 30, Mr. Goodman and colleagues will hold a two-hour session at Princeton Public Library educating people about anti-corruption law efforts. The documentary film Priceless will be screened, followed by a forum to which many politicians are being invited including Bonnie Watson Coleman and Alieta Eck, who are running for Congressman Rush Holt’s seat. “We’ll ask them each to make a short statement on their views of campaign financing. It’s a voter education forum, taking place right before the elections. Audience members can ask questions. It should be a lively event.”