Outside spending on legislative races crushes previous records

Briana Vannozzi, Anchor | November 6, 2017 | Politics

If you’re following the money this election cycle, one trend is evident. The amount of special interest spending on legislative races is crushing all previous records.

“If we just take the general election alone, if we’re talking about for the gubernatorial and legislative races, as of last week we’ve recorded about $30 million in independent spending,” said Executive Director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission Jeff Brindle.

The state’s watchdog for elections expects that number to climb in the final days. Between the primary and general election, it’s already topped out over $40 million, which is more than the last gubernatorial race in 2013.

“About two thirds of independent spending is in legislative races this time around and 65 percent of that independent spending in legislative races is going into the 3rd District,” said Brindle.

“The biggest independent outlay right now is with the NJEA and there on sort of a crusade against Steve Sweeney down south, so they seem to be willing to spend just about any amount of money they have to try and take him out,” said Matt Hale, assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University.

That spending push has made the 3rd District race the most expensive legislative race in state history. ELEC says fundraising there is expected to top $16.6 million with $12 million coming from independent groups. A closer look shows the NJEA, that’s the state’s largest teacher’s union, spent $4.5 million on that race, compared to Sweeney-backed Super PAC’s spending just over $7 million.

“When you can spend about what we calculated about $12.6 million in a general election in the 3rd District by independent groups, compare that to $3.2 million by the candidates themselves and you can see how these groups are really becoming much more influential over our elections,” said Brindle.

Brindle’s been pushing for the Legislature to act on two bills requiring more disclosure on special interest spending. And while we’re keeping score, ELEC says the 2nd Legislative District, 11th District and 1st District round out the other most expensive races this year. Meanwhile, Phil Murphy’s campaign has also spent just over $13 million to Kim Guadagno’s $3.3 million.

The questions remains: Can you win a race in New Jersey when you’re being outspent 3 to 1, or 4 to 1, like is being seen in some of these races?

“Money matters and money will always matter,” said Hale. “But at the end of the day voters matter more.”

And despite all that money, voter turnout is expected to hit yet another record low.