If Gov. Christie were to resign early to pursue a bid for the presidency, a special election could be held to replace him, depending on the timing of his resignation.
That scenario – an unusual one – could put candidates with lesser financial resources at a disadvantage: Unlike candidates in a regular gubernatorial election, they wouldn't be able to opt into the state's public financing program to raise money for their campaigns.
The discrepancy, realized by officials at the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, prompted the introduction of a bill that cleared a Senate committee Monday. The bill – sponsored by Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic) – would allow gubernatorial candidates in special elections to tap into public financing, letting them receive $2 in public money for every $1 they raise in private donations. Candidates must raise and spend $380,000 to qualify for the program, which caps their spending at $12.2 million in the general election.
"You don't want this … to be just people who are able to self-finance," Whelan said after Monday's hearing of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee. The bill has not been introduced in the Assembly.
Whelan said during the hearing the bill had "nothing to do with the current governor's situation – whether he's running for president or Bridgegate or anything else."
Christie was reelected in November to a second four-year term as governor. Some have speculated that in order to run for president in 2016, Christie would have to resign by 2015 to avoid a federal rule that would cramp his ability to raise campaign cash from the financial sector.
A resignation that early would trigger a special election – an unprecedented scenario in the history of the public financing program, said Joe Donohue, deputy director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. Most gubernatorial candidates – Christie included – have participated in the program, which dates to the late 1970s.
Since then, former governors Christie Whitman and Jim McGreevey both resigned before their terms ended. But neither did so early enough to result in a special election, Donohue said.
The state law allowing for public election financing is "silent in terms of special elections," Donohue said. "We just want to clarify" the rules.