Last-minute swell of outside funds in N.J. governor’s race shatters spending record

By: - October 29, 2021 4:55 pm

Incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., right, speaks while Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli listens during a gubernatorial debate at Rowan UniversityÕs Pfleeger Concert Hall Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Glassboro, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool)

A swell of last-minute cash in this year’s gubernatorial race shattered the record for independent spending, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission announced Friday.

Independent groups have put more than $25.8 million behind this year’s general election. Combined with candidates’ expenditures, the price tag for the general election is well above $50 million.

“Even this preliminary total already is a 57 percent increase over the previous high of $24.5 million in 2017,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said in a statement. “For more than a decade, we at ELEC have spoken about the growing influence of these so-called outside or independent groups. This year’s election already has taken it to new heights.”

Including primary spending, outside groups have put nearly $39.2 million into the gubernatorial race.

General election spending by independent groups — which face laxer disclosure requirements than spending by political parties, candidates, and their committees — for this year’s election comes in at about $10 million more than $15.3 million spent on the 2017 governor’s race.

The spending totals include millions put into the race since Monday, including $6.5 million from the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations. Gov. Phil Murphy is the DGA’s finance chair and immediate past president.

The RGA has a slight spending advantage, having put $3.1 million behind former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli’s gubernatorial bid, compared to the $2.7 million proffered by the Democratic organization, which has eschewed direct spending in favor of sending money to Our NJ, a state political committee that has put $6.7 million behind Murphy’s re-election.

Much of the recent money — $1 million from the RGA and $1.1 million from Our NJ — has gone toward advertising on television, radio, and digital platforms.

Despite Republicans’ recent gains, Democrats still have an advantage when it comes to outside dollars.

Garden State Forward, a super PAC launched and funded by the New Jersey Education Association, sent $5.5 million to Our NJ and Build the Economy, a PAC with ties to labor groups, including $500,000 sent to the latter group earlier this week.

Other groups have reported less voluminous spending. Fix NJ Now, a Republican spending group, has put $286,233 into the race, and New Direction New Jersey, an issues advocacy nonprofit run by Murphy allies, has spent $229,833.

The outside money brings total spending on the gubernatorial race, including primary spending, to just under $81 million, though that isn’t breaking any records. Groups and candidates — largely from their own pockets — spent a staggering $87.8 million on the 2005 race between then-Sen. Jon Corzine and Republican Doug Forrester. That’s more than $123 million after adjustments for inflation.

Both Murphy and Ciattarelli qualified for matching public funds, though the incumbent still has a cash advantage. The Democrat raised $16 million to Ciattarelli’s $13.1 million through Oct. 19, though disbursements of public funds made since then suggest the Republican has since brought in another $2.3 million.

Through Oct. 19, the candidates spent roughly equal amounts. Murphy disbursed $12.6 million, while Ciattarelli spent $12.4 million.

The incumbent had about $3.5 million left in his war chest then, while Ciattarelli had just $685,259.

Gregg Mele, Madelyn Hoffman, and Joanne Kuniansky, the race’s three independent candidates for governor, have raised virtually no money.

Despite record outside spending, New Jersey’s race has still proved to be the year’s less expensive gubernatorial race. In Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin reported collectively raising $115 million in their last pre-election filings.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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