NJEA Super PAC Spending on Buono, Dems Helps Triple Totals from Past Elections

John Mooney | October 21, 2013 | Education, Politics
With its latest media buy, NJEA has shelled out over $6M on top-of-the-ticket, legislative races

Its gubernatorial candidate may be on the ropes, but the New Jersey Education Association is not holding back in the upcoming New Jersey election and is already spending triple its previous totals in campaign efforts.

The union’s new super PAC, Garden State Forward, has spent or distributed more than $5 million for the governor and legislative races, according to the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Since the last reporting, Garden State Forward also wrapped up another television advertising buy of nearly $1 million for Democratic challenger Barbara Buono that brought the total to almost $6 million.

Add to that at least another $630,000 already reported by its long-standing NJEA PAC, and the total nears $7 million. More is to be disclosed in the next report to be released today.

The NJEA’s total election spending in each of the past two statewide elections was a little over $2 million each time.

This doesn’t include the union’s massive lobbying efforts in recent off-election years — largely to combat Gov. Chris Christie and funding and pension cuts. With those, the NJEA has spent more than $30 million since 2010, double all of its political spending in the previous decade, according to the commission’s reports. An ELEC analysis in August found that NJEA was by far Trenton’s largest political spender between 1999 and 2012.

“Ever since it first registered as a lobbying group in 1964, NJEA has been a major influence in Trenton,” said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the state’s enforcement commission. “But its spending since 2010 has taken the group to a whole new level.”

The difference in this election has been the creation of Garden State Forward, the union’s new political action committee launched this spring in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling that loosened rules on how campaign money could be raised, spent, and reported.

According to ELEC, the NJEA’s super PAC has spent at least $5.16 million to date on the election, including $2.5 million passed directly to the Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security, a Democratic super PAC out of Washington, D.C., targeting a half-dozen legislative races here. The Democratic fund alone has spent $2.6 million in New Jersey legislative races so far, ELEC reported.

The NJEA’s top political director said the union is just trying to keep up with other super PACs created out of Citizen United, including the Christie-backing Committee for Our Children’s Future, which tops the spending list at $8 million this year.

‘We’re not the only ones spending big,” said Ginger Gold Schnitzer, the NJEA’s director of government relations. “There is a lot of crazy money being spent, and anything we’ve done, we’re just trying to keep pace with it.”

With the PAC entirely funded out of dues from the NJEA’s 200,000 members, Schnitzer said the stakes are high for the union, not just in the governor’s race, where they have endorsed Buono, but in the ultimate composition of the Legislature. She cited recent legislative battles over collective bargaining rights and other key union issues in Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan.

“This election is so important to us,” Schnitzer said. “You just need to look around the country, and you can see why. You can see what happens if we are not actively engaged.”

When asked how much money would go to the governor’s race versus the legislative ones, she declined to give a precise breakdown. She did not hide the fact that Buono is far behind Christie in public opinion polls, but said the NJEA’s support has been aimed to benefit both Buono and key Democratic legislative candidates.

“All of it is intended to help Buono and not hurt her,” she said. “Can’t say about some of the others out there . . . with some [campaigns] talking about how much they have worked with Christie.”

She said Buono remains a priority, but if Christie does prevail, the aim is that he does not bring with him large Republican legislative gains.

“You can’t take for granted that it’s not going to impact down the ticket,” she said of Christie’s frontrunner status. “We have to work all of it this time.