The Corzine factor

Recent reports out of the Election Law Enforcement Commission show that over the past four years, Democratic fundraising totals have plummeted more than 50 percent, while the GOP has seen a remarkable uptick.

A number of factors have contributed to the Democratic slide, including new pay to play rules, a surge in GOP popularity and the recession, which curtailed political giving at all levels.

But in New Jersey, there is an X factor that has played a marked role in the drop in Democratic fundraising – the disappearance of Jon Corzine.

For the last decade, the former New Jersey governor was perhaps the largest individual benefactor of the Democratic cause beginning with his days as chairman of Goldman Sachs and continuing during his single term in the U.S. Senate, and, sadly for Democrats, coming to an abrupt halt with his loss to Gov. Chris Christie in 2009.

In the 11 years leading up to the 2009 election, Corzine donated more than $5 million to state candidates and state and county parties including a staggering $4 million to the state’s 21 Democratic county parties.  Ex-wife Joanne Corzine added another $358,000 to the county coffers.

More than any other single donor, Corzine’s money had an impact.

Consider that in 2006, the former governor’s $493,000 in donations to county Democrats accounted for 5.5 percent of the total amount donated to all Democratic county parties across the state. In 2008, it was 4.2 percent and in 2005 more than 3.5 percent.

Another telling indicator: In 2006, Corzine’s second heaviest year for donations, the overall take for the county parties was $9 million.  In 2010, without Corzine’s help, it dropped to $4.5 million.

And sources within the state’s Democratic County parties say the ex-governor’s largesse did not stop with his own donations. Corzine was a master at directing funds to his friends at the county level as well.

“He was a big help with that,” said one county chairman.  “I had some of my best fundraising years under Corzine and it was due as much to the money he helped us raise as it was to the money he donated.”

Another chairman said that Corzine’s donations as well as money directed to the party by the former governor amounted to more than 10 percent of his total haul in one year.

But since Election Day in November of 2009, the Corzine money train has ceased running.  The man who was once the godfather of Democrats throughout New Jersey has not donated one cent in the state since he walked away from that race a loser.

Supporters of the former governor say Corzine felt betrayed after the 2009 race when several prominent Democrats reportedly “sat on their hands” and allowed Christie to walk away with the most powerful governorship in the nation.

“I think it’s fair to say that the former governor felt that major Democratic power brokers… took a dive in November,” said one prominent Democrat with ties to the Corzine administration.  “I don’t think that necessarily had an enormous influence on this lack of monetary contributions since his defeat, but that suspicion of treachery certainly did not help.”

But Josh Zeitz, a spokesman for Corzine said the explanation for his disappearance has nothing to do with betrayal and everything to do with securities regulations.  MF Global is governed by several regulatory agencies that limit political donations from employees of securities firms.

Either way, there is no question Corzine’s disappearance has hurt the Democratic Party. And the effect goes far beyond just the value of his donations, politicos say.

 “On the one hand, having those resources were great, but on the other hand it allowed people not to develop other sources as aggressively as they could have,” said Message and Media Partner Brad Lawrence, whose firm did work for Corzine in all three elections. Lawrence called Corzine a “once in a generation” candidate – a self funder who had the resources and was willing to spend them on himself and others. 

Former Mercer County Democratic Chairman Rich McClellan agreed, saying that parties began to rely too heavily on the former governor.

“”This is a guy who worked his butt off to provide an unprecedented level of financial support to build local and county Democratic organizations,” McClellan said. ” Some county chairs probably took that as a cue to slack off their own independent fundraising efforts with the result that they simply weren’t there organizationally when they were needed in the 2009 election. That same organizational weakness, when combined with the much needed pay to play restrictions, has tended to cripple the base of some counties’ fundraising. “

Another Democratic operative put it more succinctly.

“There was no party building and there was no loyalty, it was just money and it became expected after a while,” the operative said.

Party chairmen and others say it is imperative that Democrats move on from the Corzine machine and spend the coming year developing new sources for fundraising particularly in light of the all important mid-term elections taking place in November.

Light coffers would put the party at a disadvantage at a time when redistricting promises to throw the legislature into turmoil.

“It’s now or never,” one operative said. “Our fundraising numbers have dropped, not just because of Corzine but for other reasons as well and we need to make that up so we can help candidates at both the state and local levels. Governor Corzine is gone and he’s not coming back, so we need to move on.”

From 1999 until 2008 former Gov. Jon Corzine donated more than $4 million to county Democratic Parties

Atlantic County        $156,000

Bergen County         $358,000

Burlington County    $233,000

Camden County       $252,000

Cape May County     $145,000

Cumberland County  $211,600

Essex County           $290,546

Gloucester county     $319,000

Hudson County         $299,500

Hunterdon County    $87,300

Mercer County          $226,168

Middlesex County     $262,000

Monmouth County    $188,000

Morris County           $41,850

Ocean County          $135,000

Passaic County         $210,000

Salem County           $95,000

Somerset County     $131,000

Sussex County         $65,500

Union County           $364,000

Warren County        $40,000

Total:                       $4,094,664

Donations to Democratic County Parties by Year

1999  $116,500

2000  $394, 785

2001  $586,429

2002  $426,350

2003  $426,600

2004  $487,000

2005  $450,000

2006  $493,000

2007  $450,000

2008  $264,000