In the Money: What the Gubernatorial Hopefuls Have Spent Thus Far

ELEC’s latest pre-election finance reports put Murphy way out ahead (no surprise), but has anyone come close?

Democratic frontrunner Phil Murphy has a commanding financial lead in the gubernatorial race, having already spent 10 times more than his nearest rival, new campaign finance data shows.

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission released the 11 primary candidates’ 29-day pre-election finance reports on Wednesday and the numbers show Murphy clearly in the lead. The former Wall Street executive had individually raised $19.3 million and spent $18.4 million of that by May 8 and when money to independent committees Murphy created is included, almost $25 million was raised and about $24 million spent on his behalf.

Former U.S. Treasury official Jim Johnson is Murphy’s closest rival financially, but trails far behind him. Johnson had raised $2.3 million and spent $1.7 million, with his NJ Prepared to Vote independent committee adding little to those totals.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno led the five-candidate field with $2.2 million raised individually, plus another $400,000 from her Building a Better New Jersey Together committee. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli of Somerset County had raised about $1 million less and had no independent committee.

Counting the cash

In total, the 11 Democrats and Republicans had raised $28 million and spent $23.3 million on their own. Independent committee spending to support candidates, including two that chose not to run, brings the total raised to $41 million, with nearly $32 million of that having been spent. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, both Democrats that decided not to run, had independent committees that took in half the total raised by the independent groups: Fulop’s Coalition for Progress had taken in $4.3 million and spent a quarter of that amount, while Sweeney’s New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow had raised $2.2 million and spent $800,000.

The amount of money in this year’s race far exceeds what was spent four years ago, when Gov. Chris Christie ran for and won his second term, said Jeff Brindle, executive director of ELEC.

“At this point four years ago, candidates had expended just $3.5 million while independent groups had spent about $9.9 million,” he said. “One big difference is the number of candidates. In 2013, there were just four candidates vying for the two major party nominations. This year, there are 11.”

Brindle said independent election committees are likely to play a large role in this election and in the races for the Legislature, where all seats are up for grabs this year. In 2013, these groups spent a record of nearly $39 million on the elections, he added.

Buying the nomination?

The revelation of the size of Murphy’s war chest prompted the John Wisniewski campaign to charge Murphy with trying to buy the nomination.

“Phil Murphy has spent $19 million dollars on buying off party bosses, strong-arming Trenton insider endorsements, and running ineffective advertisements, all so he could move up a few measly points in the polls,” said Kevin Keefe, campaign manager for the Middlesex County assemblyman, who raised about $1.4 million and had no independent committee.

Murphy has received the endorsement of the Democratic committees in all 21 counties. An analysis of ELEC data shows he has given $934,000 to largely Democratic candidates over the past three years, with about $537,000 of that going to the party committees in 15 counties.

“Murphy’s fundamental problem is that his elitist Goldman Sachs background, his lifestyle of flying around the world in private jets to his million dollar villas is at stark odds with his populist message of fighting for ordinary voters.”

‘Middle-class’ Murphy?

Murphy, whose 2015 income tax return reported $7.3 million in income, has been running ads and campaigning as a man who grew up “middle class on a good day” and wants to help rebuild New Jersey’s middle class. His spokesman said the candidate who also served as ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama has widespread support from regular New Jerseyans.

“In this period alone, Phil Murphy received 5,030 individual contributions, of which 55 percent were of $100 or less,” said Derek Roseman. “Nearly 79 percent of those contributions came from New Jersey residents. No other candidate in this race can claim to have such a base of grassroots support from our state’s residents. They are contributing to our campaign because they believe in Phil Murphy’s vision of economic progress and know that he is the only candidate who has a real vision for restoring New Jersey’s middle class.”

In addition to contributions, Murphy has loaned his campaign more than $15 million so far, according to his most recent campaign report.

“We have 27 days to go, despite the millions laid out by Murphy he has failed to close the deal,” Keefe continued. “This race is wide open, it’s clear the voters are still shopping for a candidate they can get behind. “On June 6th, Phil Murphy is going to find out that no matter how much he tries to buy this race, the voters aren’t buying him.”

Half undecided

The most recent poll, from Quinnipiac University, found 52 percent of registered Democrats still undecided. Murphy had a wide lead among those with an opinion, backed by 26 percent of all those surveyed, compared with 7 percent for Johnson, 5 percent for Wisniewski, 4 percent of Sen. Ray Lesniak of Union County, 3 percent for activist Bill Brennan and 1 percent for Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna.

That same poll showed Guadagno with an 11-point lead over Ciattarelli , but again, just over half of voters have not yet made up their minds. Guadagno had the support of 23 percent of registered Republicans, compared with 12 percent for Ciattarelli, 5 percent for Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers and 3 percent for businessman and actor Joseph “Rudy” Rullo. Hirsh Singh got the backing of fewer than 1 percent.

Quinnipiac’s poll was taken at the end of April, before the first candidate debates, held Tuesday night. Tonight, the Democrats will debate for a second and final time at NJTV studios in Newark as part of an event co-sponsored by NJ Spotlight. Coverage of the debate begins at 8 pm on NJTV and will be live-streamed with commentary on NJ Spotlight.

The other Democrat to have raised the $430,000 required to appear in the debate, Lesniak took in $534,467 individually, but his total increases to about $1.4 million when including the $848,476 raised by two independent committees — the Committee for Economic Growth and Social Justice, and Run Ray Run. Zinna reported $29,135 in receipts and Brennan had taken in $15,125.

Murphy also had the most cash on hand as of Monday, with about $855,000 left in his coffers. Johnson followed with almost $600,000, while Lesniak had $287,000 and Wisniewski had just under $100,000. Zinna and Brennan each had less than $20,000.

Guadagno leads all candidates in campaign wealth, reporting $1.5 million in the bank as of last Monday, more than three times the $460,000 for Ciattarelli. Singh, though a virtual unknown, had almost twice as much as Ciattarelli — $884,000 — having raised more than $1 million and spent only one-tenth. Rogers, who raised about $21,000, had about $1,000 left. Rullo trails all candidates; he raised just $11,000 and has less than $500 in the bank.

Check out NJ Spotlight’s smart way to stay on top of the primaries with our Primaries 2017 page.

Join with NJ Spotlight and NJTV as we live stream the debate, with commentary from our staff.