N.J. law allowing larger political donations boosts giving in competitive districts

By: - October 31, 2023 7:07 am

This year’s general elections are the first contests run under the new contribution limits. All 120 legislative seats are on the ballot. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Higher campaign contribution maximums that were enacted earlier this year allowed candidates in five of the state’s most competitive legislative districts to collect more than $1 million from donations that would have been barred under previous caps, a New Jersey Monitor analysis found.

Signed in July, the Elections Transparency Act doubled limits on donations to candidates from individuals or businesses to $5,200 and made similar increases to caps on contributions from political action committees and other candidates, raising them from $8,200 to $16,400.

This year’s general elections are the first contests run under the new contribution limits. All 120 legislative seats are on the ballot.

Between June 24 and Oct. 24, candidates in the 3rd, 4th, 11th, 16th, and 38th districts received $1.02 million more in contributions than would have been allowed under the prior caps. 

Republican and Democratic candidates in the five districts collected about $5.4 million in donations between June and Oct. 24. Of that, donations that exceeded the previous contribution limits accounted for 42%, while the portion of those donations that exceeded the old caps accounted for 19%, a New Jersey Monitor analysis found.

 

Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) benefited the most from the change in contribution limits, which netted him $203,851 in additional campaign funds, more than any other candidate in the five districts. That represents 17% of his $1.2 million fundraising haul as he fights off a challenge from Republican Steve Dnistrian in the closely watched 11th District.

While Gopal earned more from donations above the previous contribution limits, they were a larger share of some other candidates’ fundraising.

Dave Bailey, a Democrat who is running for the Assembly in the 3rd District, attributed nearly 75% of his fundraising to donations that exceed the old caps. He got $89,833 from such contributions — $40,633 more than would have been allowed under the previous limits — and raised $120,073 overall.

Republican Gail Horton, who is seeking an Assembly seat in the 38th District, also attributed 75% of her fundraising to donations above the old limit. Horton has raised $25,078, $18,733 of which came from donations that exceeded the old caps.

In total, eight candidates — Bailey and Assembly running mate Heather Simmons; Democratic Assembly candidates Dan Hutchison and Cody Miller; Assemblywomen Marilyn Piperno and Kim Eulner; Assemblyman Chris Tully; and Horton — got more than half of their funds from donations that would have been barred last year.

Some candidates received only a handful of maxed-out donations — Assemblywoman Bethanne McCarthy Patrick (R-Gloucester) and her running mate, Hopewell Township Mayor Tom Tedesco, received no direct contributions exceeding the old limits, for example, though their joint committee did receive three.

 

Few PACs exceeded the old contribution limits, but those that maxed out at the new cap typically did so in multiple districts.

  • The New Jersey Laborers PAC, a political arm of Laborers’ International Union of North America, made 11 $16,400 contributions to Democratic candidates in the 3rd, 11th, 16th, and 38th districts.
  • Various PACs tied to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers gave a total of $190,200 to Democratic candidates in the 3rd, 4th, 11th, and 38th districts.
  • Greater NJ Carpenters PEC, the carpenters union PAC, gave $213,200 in maxed-out donations in all five of the districts — twice what they could’ve legally given last year.

 

The heightened limits also enabled legislative leaders to spread more money to their caucuses.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) sent $16,400 from his campaign account to every Democrat in the five districts, and Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) made seven maxed-out contributions to candidates in the 3rd, 16th, and 38th districts.

Democrats in the five districts benefitted more from the heightened caps in raw and relative terms. The new caps allowed them to bring in an extra $867,450, or 20% of their total fundraising. They won Republicans only $154,597, or about 14% of their total raised.

“Any Republican who was in favor of this bill, for whatever reason, should look at these numbers and see what damage they did to the Republican Party,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Morris), an outspoken critic of the Elections Transparency Act. “Anybody who thought that this was a good idea was misled. The net impact is it gives the Democrats a humongous fundraising advantage beyond what they already had.”

Six Republicans — Sen. Vin Polistina (R-Atlantic) and Assemblymembers Claire Swift (R-Atlantic), Don Guardian (R-Atlantic), Brandon Umba (R-Burlington), Michael Torrissi (R-Burlington), and Dianne Gove (R-Ocean) — voted in favor of the bill.

 

The higher caps also allowed Scutari and Coughlin to collect more funds for their own campaign accounts.

Coughlin was able to bring in an extra $94,100 due to the new caps, about 27% of the $344,549 he’s raised since June 24. Close to two-thirds of his fundraising, 62%, came from donations that exceeded the old cap.

The new contribution limits netted Scutari’s campaign account an additional $50,000, or about 12% of the $413,440 he’s raised since June 24. Donations above the old caps accounted for 31% of the Senate president’s total fundraising.

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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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