New Jersey’s Congressional Races: Mapping the Money

The Garden State is grabbing some attention during the run-up to November 4, including for some surprisingly expensive races

Amounts are as of midnight Wednesday, the deadline for filing third quarter reports.

New Jersey’s mostly ho-hum House races come with a steep price tag — nearly $24 million spent through September 30 — and some surprising notoriety, including the largest self-funded campaign in the nation this year.

Republican Thomas MacArthur, the former one-year Randolph mayor now running for Congress more than 70 miles away in the 3rd District that covers much of Ocean and Burlington counties, has lent his campaign more than $4 million through September 30. About half that was spent on the contested GOP primary in which he beat Steve Lonegan, another former North Jersey mayor and last year’s unsuccessful Republican U.S. Senate nominee. No other campaign for the House or Senate had a higher debt load, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization advocating for transparency and open government.

It’s impossible to know exactly how much MacArthur, a former insurance executive who retired four years ago at age 50, is worth. An analysis of his financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. House of Representatives puts his assets — including those held jointly with his wife and those of his dependent children — at between $31.9 million and $92.6 million, nearly all of that in investment income. He reported liabilities of between $5.1 million and $25.3 million, mostly in a securities-backed variable rate loan. If elected, he would surpass Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-11) as the state’s wealthiest member of Congress and rank among the 20 wealthiest in the nation, using the same formula employed by Roll Call to determine the wealthiest members of Congress.

Democratic opponent Aimee Belgard, a Burlington County freeholder, is bracing for MacArthur potentially pumping more of his own money into the race, or may have already, as the reports required to be filed with the Federal Election Commission by Wednesday only show fundraising and spending through September 30.

“Tom MacArthur is a North Jersey insurance industry CEO whose top priority since day one on this campaign has been to buy a seat in Congress from 90 miles away,” said Hannah Ledford, a spokeswoman for Belgard. “He has loaned his campaign $4 million that we know of — it could be more. Voters in this district understand that he doesn’t represent their priorities of affordable education, paycheck equality for women, providing a living wage to hardworking men and women, and protecting Social Security and Medicare.”

2014 Congressional contributions
2014 Congressional contributions

Contributions for the 2014 election through 9/30/14. Search by 1 or more fields.

The Democrat, running as the underdog in a district currently represented by retiring Republican Rep. Jon Runyan, has gotten more contributions than MacArthur — more than 3,400 totaling some $1.4 million. MacArthur had about 640 donors, excluding himself, giving him about $475,000. But Belgard has also gotten substantial assistance from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had made nearly $1.4 million in independent expenditures against his candidacy, mostly to buy ads that he has complained are largely false and highly negative.

All this spending has made New Jersey’s 3rd District the most expensive House race in the state this year, and among the 20 most expensive in the nation including candidate and outside spending. The costs can be explained by the highly contested race for an open seat in a district served by two of the most expensive media markets in the nation — New York and Philadelphia. More than $8 million had been spent through September 30, according to Sunlight’s data. With little more than a month to go, Belgard had about $600,000 in the bank, or $40,000 more than MacArthur.

“A contested congressional campaign in a swing district that President Obama won twice, and that spans both the New York and Philadelphia media markets, is going to be expensive,” said Chris Russell, a MacArthur spokesman. “That should come as no surprise. Moreover, the Belgard campaign, DCCC, and other outside groups have spent literally millions of dollars on dishonest attacks ads against Tom since August. Tom has every right to defend himself against these malicious attacks, and utilize the resources he worked hard to earn during a successful business career to do so.”

Taking all the money into account, spending by and for MacArthur through the end of last month topped that spent by Belgard and against MacArthur by about $1.5 million, including money spent in the primaries. And MacArthur currently enjoys a 10-point lead over Belgard among likely voters, according to the latest Monmouth University Poll, released on Tuesday.

“One poll doesn’t invalidate three others that show this race is neck and neck,” disputed Ledford, adding that three polls have shown the race to be close. “We know Aimee’s message of standing up for the middle class is resonating with voters, and that’s why Burlington and Ocean County residents are rejecting Tom MacArthur’s profit-at-any cost approach.”

Next door, the 4th District is at the opposite end of the spectrum: the least expensive race in the state and the sixth least expensive in the nation. Longtime Republican Rep. Chris Smith is expected to have no trouble besting Democratic challenger Ruben Scolavino in the traditionally red district that encompasses parts of Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties. Smith had raised 78 times more money than Scolavino and had $319,000 on hand, compared with $4,300 for Scolavino.

The financial stats for a couple of other New Jersey candidates, both incumbents, are notable, as well.

Rep E. Scott Garrett (R-5th) is ranked sixth in the nation, and tops in New Jersey for the amount of money in the bank on September 30. Garrett’s northernmost district, covering most of Sussex and Warren counties and parts of Bergen and Passaic, has been safely Republican and is not considered at play by national political observers. However, a Monmouth Poll on Wednesday found Garrett with only a 5-point lead over Democratic challenger and political newcomer Roy Cho.

Garrett, consistently rated one of the most conservative House members in the nation, had raised $1.8 million toward this election cycle and spent about half that. Cho, an attorney, had taken in slightly less than $1 million and spent two thirds of it and had about $300,000 on hand, some $2.7 million less than Garrett had with about a month before the election. Unlike Belgard, Cho had gotten no support from the DCCC.

“The DCCC may have targeted the wrong district,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted the 3rd as a “red to blue” race, where it is focusing efforts to try to change the political representation of the district. The 2nd, also in South Jersey, was listed as an “emerging” race of secondary importance. Monmouth’s poll this week on the 2nd District has longtime incumbent Republican Frank LoBiondo with a commanding 21-point lead over Democrat Bill Hughes Jr., son of the former congressman. LoBiondo also has a substantial money lead over his opponent, with $1.4 million more in the bank than Hughes, who had just $134,000 on hand on September 30.

Sunlight ranked Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) the fourth-highest spender of all candidates nationwide, with nearly $4.9 million spent in this two-year cycle But that number is deceiving, since it includes $3.3 million he transferred to a separate committee to help finance a failed bid for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination during last year’s special primary election. Former Newark Mayor Cory Booker won the nod and the seat. Excluding that transfer, Pallone has spent about $1.2 million and raised nearly $2 million. He had about $750,000 on hand on September 30.

In total, 24 New Jersey House candidates had raised $24.1 million and spent $21.4 million, with another $2.1 million spent by outside groups for or against candidates — most of that in the 3rd. All of that money was reported by the two major party candidates, since none of the independents filed reports. Three Republican challengers — Jude Anthony Tiscornia in the 8th, Deirdre Paul in the 9th and Yolanda Dentley in the 10th — also did not file reports. All three are in what are considered safe Democratic districts in Northeast Jersey. Candidates who expect to spend no more than a minimal amount do not need to file detailed forms.

The reports filed Wednesday do not include any financial updates for any of the U.S. Senate candidates, since they are not required to file electronic copies of their reports. The information from their reports — filed on paper — must be input by hand and that can take a week or more.

As of June 30, Booker had taken in $15.2 million, spent $12.2 million, and had $3.5 million in the bank. Republican Jeff Bell had received $132,815, spent $84,721, and had $10 in cash on June 30, according to his report filed with the Federal Election Commission. Antonio Nico Sabas was the only one of five independents to have filed a report and in that, as of April 30, he had $8,000 in cash.

The quarterly reports filed Wednesday are the last comprehensive finance reports being filed before the election on November 4.