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Democrats Putting Big Money Into Battle for Legislature

Independent group aligned with Norcross fighting to keep majority even if Christie wins by landslide.

george norcross
Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
George Norcross

With Democratic strategists fearing that a landslide victory by Gov. Chris Christie could threaten control of the Legislature, party leaders are relying on a new independent expenditure committee that can raise large sums without limit to pump $10 million to $20 million into defending targeted districts this fall.

The Fund for Jobs, Growth & Security has already spent $508,536 on polling, field strategies and direct support for the Democratic minimum wage campaign and six South Jersey legislators.

George Norcross, the South Jersey powerbroker, and other leading Democrats are actively raising money for the organization, which currently has almost $1.25 million sitting in its bank account -- all of it contributed by three union groups.

“It’s really the Wild West post-Citizens United,” said one Democratic strategist, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that allowed unlimited spending by independent groups. “As a reformer, I’m horrified, but as a partisan, I’m happy Democrats aren’t being wimpy and bringing bottle-rockets to a bazooka fight.”

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The strategist, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that the Fund for Jobs, Growth & Security, which sued the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) and won agreement to its demand to be able to raise and spend unlimited sums, has replaced One New Jersey as the leading independent Democratic fundraising vehicle, adding that insiders were discussing raising as much as $20 million.

The emergence of the Fund for Jobs, Growth & Security is just the latest example of the increased importance of independent-expenditure committees that are not subject to spending limits and do not have to disclose their donors as long as they do not coordinate their activities with political candidates or directly urge citizens to vote for a particular candidate.

“I am anticipating that $30 million to $40 million will be raised and spent by independent groups in this election cycle,” said Jeffrey M. Brindle, ELEC’s executive director. “We had gubernatorial elections in Washington and Florida where $40 million was spent independently, and given the fact that New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states with gubernatorial and legislative elections this year, there is going to be a lot of outside money coming in.”

ELEC issued a report that noted that more than $14 million had already been spent by independent groups through the June primary. The biggest chunk was the $7.8 million spent by the Committee For Our Children’s Future, a Republican group whose barrage of TV ads in support of Christie’s tax cuts, pension and health benefit changes, tenure reform, and other policies was critical in building up Christie’s poll numbers before Hurricane Sandy catapulted the governor’s ratings into the stratosphere where they still reside.

Christie has maintained a 28- to 32-percentage point lead over Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) for almost five months, and Democratic legislative leaders fear that a Christie blowout could cut into or eliminate their 24-16 majority in the Senate and 48-32 margin in the Assembly.

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