July 1, 2021 | Number of The Day
Spending on primary races by NJ candidates for governor, ranked by historical standards

The amount of money spent on political campaigns in the United States seems to go in only one direction — ever upward. For instance, spending by candidates, parties and independent campaign groups in the 2016 federal races totaled $6.5 billion. To put it in context, that figure was “comparable to the GDP that year of Monaco, Kosovo or Liechtenstein, and more than double that of Liberia,” as noted by CNN’s The Conversation. Spending on the 2020 election cycle smashed that, totaling $14.4 billion.

Good to know then that here in New Jersey, the upward trend was bucked for once by candidates in this year’s primary election for governor. The candidates, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat and Republican challengers spent a total of $16.3 million, the fifth-lowest in 20 years, according to the latest information released by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). For comparison, in 2017 candidates spent $38 million, adjusted for inflation. In 2013, candidates spent about $11 million (inflation-adjusted).

“Spending during years when incumbents are running for reelection, such as 2009, 2013 and 2021, typically tends to be smaller,” said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director. “Spending also is down because incumbents seeking reelection usually face little or no primary challenge.”

The two biggest spenders were Gov. Phil Murphy, who had no primary opponent. His campaign raised almost $8 million and spent all but about $300,000 of that. Jack Ciattarelli, who won the Republican race, raised about $7.1 million and also spent most of what was raised.

Another figure on the spreadsheet shows that spending by independent committees on the primaries almost equaled that of the candidates’ campaigns — $13.2 million. What’s notable here is that most of that sum was raised by New Direction for New Jersey, a so-called dark money group favorable to Murphy. It raised $13.6 million and spent $13.2 million. An entity affiliated with Ciattarelli called Fix NJ Now raised just over $247,000 and spent $152,369 of that.

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