The Democrats running for 1st District legislative seats want to reduce litter while helping local charities, and they're challenging the Republicans to do the same.

The slate, led by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, has come up with a proposal to give the $8,000 normally spent on campaign yard signs to local charities.

"This is money that would be much better spent doing something positive in our communities, rather than merely littering them," said Van Drew in a letter penned on Sunday to GOP opponent Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt.

Adelizzi-Schmidt, responding by letter Monday, said an agreement could be worked out, but then she issued a challenge of her own. She wants a $500,000 spending limit on the campaign for the Senate seat and two Assembly seats.

"I have spoken to my running mates, and I am sure we could find agreement on the campaign sign issue and donating the money saved to local charities in the 1st Legislative District," Adelizzi-Schmidt said.

"In our opinion, campaign signs are no different in many ways from the slick glossy mailers that fill up our mailboxes or the 30-second television ads that litter our television screens in the final months of a campaign.

"To that end, I propose, on behalf of my running mates, to broaden this agreement and do something that truly makes our campaigns different from the ones that have come before them," she said.

The 1st District includes all of Cape May County, most of Cumberland County and three towns in Atlantic County.

When all three seats are up, as they are this year, Adelizzi-Schmidt said the campaign money can reach "the millions." She wants to limit it to $166,667 per candidate. This would include spending by political committees and other third-party groups on behalf of candidates.

Van Drew, reached by telephone Monday night, said an agreement should first be made on the signs, because that idea came first. He did not rule out a spending agreement but said it is hard to eliminate "outside groups" pumping money into the campaign. Van Drew said these groups "have beaten us up" in the past.

"It's hard to control," Van Drew said.

Van Drew's slate, all incumbents, includes Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Robert Andrzejczak. Adelizzi-Schmidt is challenging Van Drew with running mates Kristin Gabor and Sam Fiocchi.

Adelizzi-Schmidt fired the first campaign salvo soon after last week's primary when she challenged Van Drew to a summer debate. Such debates usually happen in the fall before a November election. Van Drew declined.

But Van Drew countered with the yard sign proposal, as long as the Republicans agree to do the same.

He said if both sides contribute $8,000, this would amass $1,000 for 16 different charities. Democrats would give $500 to each charity, and so would Republicans. Those pesky yard signs that seem to dot the landscape before - and sometimes long after - elections would be eliminated.

Under Van Drew's plan, the legislative names could not be tacked onto other campaign signs. Gov. Chris Christie, for example, is running in November so it could be a big loss for Republicans to not be on signs associated with him.

Van Drew said he does not feel the lack of yard signs gives any candidate any advantage.

"I don't believe signs win elections. People hate them. They trash up the area. They're expensive and they never get cleaned up," Van Drew said.

The Republicans are awaiting a response on the proposed spending cap.

"Your proposal on campaign signs is a step in the right direction. Your willingness to join us in committing to a real spending cap would send a message statewide that this year's legislative campaign in the 1st District is a contest of ideas, not checkbooks," Adelizzi-Schmidt said.

She said an agreement would have to be put in writing and would need to find a way to enforce contributions from outside groups that "neither of us have the ability to legally restrict."

Contact Richard Degener: