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Elections 2018

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Interactive Map: NJ’s Election Spending, Where’s the Cash Coming from?

An unusually large number of competitive contests for New Jersey’s congressional seats, a Senate candidate with deep pockets, and funding from outside groups make for costliest election ever

Contributions to Congressional Candidates
By the party getting more money by zip code, the total amount in contributions.
Republicans $10K+ Republicans -$10K Tie Democrats -$107K Democrats $10K+
Note: To find a zip code or town, zoom in and move the map or use the magnifying glass to search by the zip code or town name (include NJ for a town).
Source: NJ Spotlight analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

The money being raised by New Jersey candidates for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives this year is already breaking records, due to the unusually large number of competitive contests, and the Senate race is also going to be more costly than any since 2000.

Candidates for the state’s dozen House seats raised more money through June 30 than was raised through election day in any of the prior races this decade — $32.8 million including amounts received by all primary contenders. That doesn’t include whatever money they have received since July 1 and can still raise by the November 6 election, an NJ Spotlight analysis of campaign financial data from the Center for Responsive Politics found.

Follow this link to explore a database of all congressional campaign contributions through June 30, 2018.

In four districts currently controlled by Republicans and considered either toss-ups or Democratic-leaning by independent ratings, the Democratic candidate had already raised more by mid-year than the party’s nominees had in the prior four elections combined. In one case, in the 11th in North Jersey, Democrat Mikie Sherrill had taken in 13 times more than the Democratic nominees had from 2010 through 2016.

By mid year on the Senate side, the race for Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s seat had already drawn more than $25 million in contributions. And outside groups trying to influence the election had spent $8.6 million through September 10.

The House candidates “are breaking all kinds of records, which has to do with the fact that there are so many potentially competitive races,” said Matthew Hale, a professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University.

The hottest contests

Those races are: the southernmost 2nd, where Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo is retiring; the 3rd in south-central Jersey, where Trump loyalist Rep. Tom MacArthur is in a statistical tie with Democrat Andy Kim; the 7th in central Jersey, where Democrat Tom Malinowski had more money than longtime incumbent Republican Leonard Lance as of June 30 in a district that Hillary Clinton won in the presidential contest two years ago; and the 11th, which raters say is likely to go Democratic with the retirement of Republican Rodney P. Frelinghuysen.

Fundraising by New Jersey’s two major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate has also exceeded the amount taken in during the entirety of the last four Senate races, due largely to the almost $16 million that Republican Bob Hugin had lent his campaign by mid-year. But, unless Hugin exceeds his vow to spend as much as $20 million, this race will not likely beat the record $69.8 million spent in 2000, some $62 million of which was Democrat Jon Corzine’s own money.

And these figures only tally the candidates’ funds. Of the $8.6 million already spent by outside political committees and dark-money groups — those that do not have to report their funders — the majority of that is funding negative ads and flyers bashing a candidate and most of that, $4.9 million, has bought ads against Hugin or Democratic incumbent Menendez. The GOP sees Menendez as vulnerable because of his recent trial on corruption charges, although these were dismissed, and the Democrats are fighting hard to keep the seat blue.

Candidates may need to spend a lot of money to be competitive in districts they are trying to flip from one party to another. It becomes even more expensive in a state like New Jersey, without its own commercial television network, where candidates must buy ad time in the most expensive media markets in the nation — New York and Philadelphia — to get their messages out.

“There is a minimum amount of money that is needed to run a solid campaign, that varies by district based both on competitiveness and built in expense,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. He said that in the case of the 3rd District in South Jersey, for example, it’s even more expensive because it is in both the New York and Philly media markets.

Who knows what the saturation point is?

“At the same time, there is a maximum amount of money beyond which you have saturated the spending impact and are probably just throwing money away,” Murray continued. “The problem is we don’t know where that saturation point is and campaign consultants — who make their living by charging a percentage on every ad buy — will always tell you that you need to spend more.”

Individuals, political action committees and companies have all been generous in giving to candidates this election cycle — and websites and email links that allow a person to easily contribute to a campaign are having a big impact in New Jersey races. NJ Spotlight’s analysis of close to 51,000 Federal Election Commission contribution records found that ActBlue, the nonprofit organization that has created digital fundraising tools that make it easy to collect money from contributors, has facilitated $5.3 million in contributions to Democrats through June 30. Close behind is the VoteSane PAC, which has put more than $1.4 million into the coffers of Republicans, and $3,450 into those of Democrats, although it bills itself as non-partisan.

“As Amazon shows, if you have one-click purchasing power, good things happen,” Hale said, referring to the ease with which a person can make a contribution, using an ActBlue link or from the VoteSane site.

Not surprisingly, most of the money New Jersey candidates have received has come from within the state — $39 million, including Hugin’s self-financing. Besides Hugin’s home in Summit and the Newark zip code of 07102, home of Menendez’s personal PAC, the most generous zip codes to candidates so far this year have been:

  • Englewood’s 07632, which is home base of the nonpartisan, pro-Israel NORPAC: a total of $514,358 in contributions, 95.4 percent to Democrats.

  • Princeton’s 08540, a habitual big-donor location: a total of $469,715, 80.1 percent to Democrats.

  • Morristown’s 07960, which is in the 11th and includes Morris Township: a total of $363,884, 84.8 percent to Democrats; 77 percent of 559 separate contributions went to Sherrill.

Outside money

Other states where contributors have sent more than $1 million to Garden State races are New York, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia as well as Washington, D.C, which is the home of numerous PACs.

Money is not a magic bullet, and New Jersey has plenty of examples of politicians who outspent their opponents and lost, but money certainly makes it easier to win over voters or discourage them from supporting one’s opponent.

Given the large war chests candidates have amassed, and without any certain idea of how much is needed to win a race, Murray expects to see lots of spending over the last two months of the campaigns.

“Since we are already seeing a record-breaking amount of money raised in key New Jersey districts this year,” he said, “we will certainly see a record-breaking amount spent.”

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