Lobbying in Trenton dipped in 2022 amid pandemic recovery

PSEG tops list of biggest spenders on lobbying

By: - March 9, 2023 5:45 pm

Lobbying expenditures declined slightly in 2022 as the state's regular top spender took a break, the Election Law Enforcement Commission says. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

Spending on lobbying declined in New Jersey for the second year in a row as the state emerged from the pandemic with a slower pace of lawmaking — but the amount groups spent to sway lawmakers in 2022 is still among the highest in state history.

Unions, health care organizations, business groups, and utilities, among others, spent about $95.1 million on lobbying in 2022, a minor decline from the roughly $96 million spent the prior year. Nearly $107 million in influence spending was reported in 2020, according to figures released by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission Thursday.

“We lived through, with the pandemic, some abnormal times, and I think that applied to lobbying as well,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle, adding, “I think the lobbying kind of reflects what happened in society as a whole, and that is a kind of return to things that are more normal.”

PSEG, the state’s largest electric utility, topped the spending list for the second consecutive year even as it saw its lobbying expenditures decline by 68% over the previous year, falling from roughly $2.6 million in 2021 to $849,112 last year.

The utility company lobbied chiefly on various renewable energy initiatives, which they usually supported, and sought amendments to other measures, including one that extended pandemic utility shutoff protections, according to quarterly reports filed by PSEG lobbyists.

Since 2000, PSEG has spent nearly $16 million on lobbying, the fifth-most of any group in the state.

Lobbying reports submitted to the commission do not break down spending by bill or issue lobbied but show spending on lobbying staff, spending on outside lobbyists, and mass communications like mailers and ads, among other miscellaneous expenses.

ACLU breaks top 10

The ACLU of New Jersey placed second in annual lobbying spending after more than doubling its influence expenditures in 2022, with the group’s reported spending rising from $273,161 in 2021 to $716,928 last year.

The increase is so sharp that the state ACLU’s 2022 lobbying spend exceeds the group’s lobbying expenditures in the previous three years combined, and the group was already expanding its lobbying operation in those years.

“From reproductive rights to police accountability, immigrants’ rights to criminal legal reform, the challenges facing New Jersey are urgent and demand swift action,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “I’m proud that the ACLU of New Jersey has been able to respond to this crucial moment when rights are under attack by expanding capacity in our policy, communications, and legal teams and increasing the number of hours we spend in coalition spaces and in Trenton.”

In 2018, the state ACLU reported just $36,498 in lobbying expenditures and listed a single staffer as a governmental affairs agent, the official state designation for lobbyists. In 2022, the organization listed seven staffers as governmental affairs agents.

Before 2019, the group had never reported spending more than $75,035 on lobbying, a high watermark set in 2015, according to a review of past annual lobbying filings.

The rights group has lobbied on a broad range of measures, including ones touching on criminal justice reform, voting, and marijuana legalization.

Rounding out the top ten of biggest spenders on lobbying in 2022:

  • New Jersey Realtors: $714,897
  • AARP NJ: $648,590
  • New Jersey League of Municipalities: $646,740
  • Chemistry Council of NJ: $636,306
  • NJ Hospital Association: $608,069
  • CEP Renewables LLC: $605,685
  • Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative: $566,394
  • New Jersey Business and Industry Association: $550,851

NJEA takes a breather

Along with annual lobbying reports, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission released analysis showing which organizations had spent the most on lobbying since 2000.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has dominated lobbying spending since then, shelling out more than the three runners-up — AARP, Verizon, and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield — combined over the 23-year span.

Since 2000, the teacher’s union has spent nearly $52.6 million on lobbying, according to ELEC analysis. The three runners-up spent a combined $49.3 million over the same period.

Though the NJEA was the top spender on lobbying in five of the last 23 years, the union spent just $357,260 on lobbying in 2022, according to filings lodged with the commission.

Still, the relatively small sum the union spent on lobbying in 2022 isn’t a historical standout, and an overwhelming majority of the NJEA’s lobbying expenditures over the last 23 years — about $41 million — were made in just five years. In 2011 alone, the union reported spending nearly $11.3 million amid a standoff with former Gov. Chris Christie over pension and health benefit reforms.

“The NJEA, historically, has really lobbied with great intensity through the years, and it really depends on the particular year and the issues that would come up — whether they dealt directly with education and so forth,” Brindle said.

A spokesperson for the union did not return a request seeking comment.

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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.