Lautenberg’s Opponent Is a Lautenberg Donor

Three years ago, Rob Andrews—like every other ambitious New Jersey Democrat—believed that the best way to get ahead was to be a team player, racking up goodwill and IOU’s among party insiders with the faith that, when the time came, they’d return the favor and support his for statewide office.

Part of being a team player meant supporting Frank Lautenberg, who returned to the Senate in 2002 after a brief two-year absence. In March of 2005, Lautenberg held his first major fund-raiser for his 2008 reelection campaign, a lavish affair at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Barack Obama was the star attraction. Marvin Hamlisch provided the music. And Rob Andrews was one of the top donors.

As the event’s invitation [pdf] indicates, Andrews was one of the “Chairman’s Club” donors, meaning that he gave $10,000. It’s unclear whether the money came from Andrews personally or from his political committee. But either way, a hefty chunk of it went directly to Lautenberg’s 2008 campaign account. The fine print on the invitation indicates that $2,000 of every $10,000 individual contribution was funneled to the senator’s ’08 primary campaign fund, with another $2,000 going to his ’08 general-election account. (The rest went toward retiring ’02 campaign debt and to Lautenberg’s PAC.) For political committees, the first $5,000 of each contribution went toward ’02 debt, while the next $5,000 was for the ’08 primary.

Either way, that means that Andrews is now running against his own money.

This actually makes perfect sense. In March of ’05, Andrews believed he had the inside track to be appointed to the Senate later that year. Jon Corzine, then the state’s senior senator, was running for governor, and Andrews had dramatically endorsed him months earlier, after flirting with running himself. Starting with that endorsement, Andrews dedicated himself to doing pretty much anything Corzine asked of him in ’05, believing his loyalty would be returned with a Senate appointment when Corzine became governor. The Lautenberg fund-raiser was important to Corzine—he served as its chairman and he and Lautenberg had developed a good relationship in the Senate—and so it became important to Andrews as well, along with every other Democrat looking to curry favor with the future governor.

The rest is history: Corzine (to no one’s surprise except Andrews’) went with Robert Menendez, and not Andrews, for the Senate seat later that year. And just like that, backing Lautenberg was no longer a top priority for Andrews.