The coronavirus pandemic has halted the gallop of major political fundraising committees in New Jersey. In the second quarter of 2020, fundraising was far less lucrative for Democratic and Republican committees than it was in the first — before the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent state lockdown. Their combined haul was down 36% from the first quarter: The GOP take was down 52% (from $291,428 to $139,038); Democratic fundraising dropped 27% (from $527,956 to $386,070). For context, fundraising during the second quarter in 2016, the last presidential election year, was up 20% over that year’s first quarter. The figures released Friday by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), cover fundraising by the “Big Six,” as state party committees along with each party’s Senate and Assembly political action committees are known. (The committees are required to report their financial activity to the commission on a quarterly basis.)
Circumstances have been much the same for their counterparts across the country; a recent analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics said that “political fundraising took an intense dip as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the nation in mid-March and early April.” Jeff Brindle, executive director of ELEC, said “We’ve seen stories that some candidates nationally and in areas like New York City are having fundraising difficulties due to the virus crisis … Based solely on fundraising numbers for the recent quarter, it seems to be presenting a challenge here as well.” Noting that for the foreseeable future, “more fundraising may occur using telephone, mail and party committee website solicitations than in-person events,” Brindle said the new fundraising challenges caused by the pandemic make it even more imperative that the Legislature adopt ELEC’s recommendations that would make it easier for party committees to raise funds.
These recommendations include letting party committees accept larger contributions from regular donors as well as public contractors, while sharply limiting the amount public contractors can contribute to political action committees; in addition, requiring independent special interest groups to meet the same disclosure rules as parties and candidates, which might help reduce their fundraising advantage over parties and candidates.
“Today’s virus crisis is one more threat to the political party system in New Jersey. Steps must be taken to help parties survive this and other challenges because ultimately parties are more transparent and accountable than a system dominated by ‘dark money’ groups,” Brindle said.