The New Jersey Education Association has been the driving force behind the General Majority PAC’s roughly $2 million campaign effort on behalf of Assembly candidates in the first and second legislative districts, contributing $3 million to the independent group.
NJEA executive director Edward Richardson told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the move is a deliberate effort to show their displeasure with Governor Christie and his delegation for falling short of the state’s required pension payment this year.
“It sends a very loud signal,” said Richardson. “Our members have not missed a payment. Their contributions have gone up every year since 2011. Ultimately, we would like to have people in office who will ensure the state meets its responsibility.”
The shortfall leaves the teachers’ pension fund with a roughly $40 billion gap.
Though he stopped short of claiming that the NJEA’s involvement in the race is unwarranted or illegitimate, Bramnick pointed out at a recent press conference in Trenton that the union has raised more than twice the amount that Republican campaigns in competitive districts have.
“The teachers’ union has a very specific plan, and their plan is to resist any further reforms by state government,” said Bramnick, adding that the fundraising was a partisan effort to halt “changes in the pension system that will make it affordable to the state and not cause higher taxes.”
Though the group has helped the PAC to zero in with attacks on candidates Sam Fiocchi (R-1) and Chris Brown (R-2) because of their falling out with Christie’s party, the resulting attack ads have played on Fiocchi’s record as a businessman and on Brown’s perceived eagerness in fighting the construction of new North Jersey casinos.
NJEA Director of Government Relations Ginger Gold Schnitzer told PoltickerNJ in August that although the group’s endorsements sided with Democrats down the line this year, Brown and Fiocchi’s votes against this year’s pension payment were the deciding factor.
“If there had been Republicans that crossed over and supported the budget bill with the payment, I imagine we probably would have seen them come out with some Republican endorsements,” said Schnitzer.
The group had previously endorsed Brown in 2013.
Though the prominence of the NJEA in this year’s extra-partisan, independent fundraising has raised eyebrows, Election Law Enforcement Commission executive director Jeff Brindle said by phone that it is merely a continuation of long-term trends following from the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.
“They are very active in legislative campaigns and gubernatorial campaigns. It’s not unusual for various targeted districts be where the money goes,” said Brindle. “It’s to be expected that the NJEA and others are going to participate there.
“We’ve seen an increase in independent groups and their involvement in New Jersey politics in recent years. I think as long as the laws remain the same and there’s not the same requirements that apply to independent groups as apply to candidates and parties, we’re going to see more and more of this activity.”
With experts claiming that this year’s races are largely a dry run for higher-turnout elections, 2015’s race is showing how much and how often unions and PACS are willing to spend to maintain an already solid Democratic majority.
With their recently mounted lawsuit against the Atlantic County Clerk’s office in defense of partially filled-out vote-by-mail applications and their increasingly sophisticated placement of attack ads throughout South Jersey and Philadelphia, the 2015 cycle may be remembered less for its candidates than for the lessons the General Majority PAC takes away.