What Guv Candidate Donations to County Parties Might Mean for 2017

Sweeney will not post a Senate bill to fund the Transportation Trust Fund on Monday

Sweeney is a likely Democratic candidate.

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) released a new analysis on Tuesday of how declared and potential contenders for the 2017 gubernatorial election in New Jersey have contributed to county parties. Since 2012, according to ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle, likely and declared candidates have contributed $2.1 million to county parties. Seventy percent of those donations were made since the last gubernatorial election in 2013.

According to the report, Democrats have significantly outpaced Republicans in terms of donating since 2012 to 2016 (through June 30). In that time period, Democrats have donated $1.4 million to county parties while Republicans have donated about $665.9 thousand. Eight five percent of money donated by Democrats to county parties was received after 2014. That differs from Republicans. In that party, just 40 percent of the donations from 2012 through June 2016 arrived since 2014.

Murphy at a town hall event in Hackensack.

Murphy at a town hall event in Hackensack.

Where are Democrats donating?

ELEC included the following nine potential candidates on the Democratic side: Former Ambassador Phil Murphy (delared), Senate President Steve Sweeney, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, state Sentor Ray Lesniak, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, State Investment Council Chairman Tom Byrne and Montclair Councilman David Russo. Among those, Murphy has donated significantly more that his competition. The former ambassador has donated $518,850 since 2014. His next closest donor is Sweeney with $490,334 thousand, followed by Fulop at $206,100 and Lesniak at $68,900. Sumter and Wisniewski have donated amounts in the $50-60 thousand range. Other candidates have donated under $10,000 with Russo donating only $590 to county organizations (three donations made between 2012 and 2014).

While ELEC provided totals in their report, PolitickerNJ decided to look at individual reports to see where, in particular, those candidates were donating funds.

According to ELEC filings, Murphy has made donations including $37,800 to the Bergen County Democratic Committee from January 2015 to January 2016, $38,000 to the Passaic County Democratic Committee from February to October 2015, $35,000 to the Union County Democratic Committee in July 2015, $37,000 to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization in July 2015, $17,000 to the Somerset County Democratic Committee in April to July 2015, $10,000 to the Monmouth County Democrats in May 2015, $10,500 to the Morris County Democratic Committee in March and April 2015,  $8,500 to the Essex County Democratic Committee from February of 2015 to February 2016, $7,500 to the Warren County Democratic Committee in September 2015, $7,500 to the Sussex County Democratic Committee in September 2016, $1,500 to the Ocean County Democratic Committee in September 2015, and $1,000 to the Atlantic County Democratic Committee in March 2015.

ELEC filings show Sweeney has been fundraising in 2016. However, he has only donated $1,000 total in 2016 to county organizations (to the Morris County Democratic Committee in May) compared with Murphy’s $18,350 so far this year. In 2015, their numbers were more similar with Sweeney donating $224,000 to county organizations compared with Murphy’s $299,000.

In October 2015, Sweeney donated $37,000 to the Gloucester County Democrat Executive Team. That month he also donated $32,000 to the Cumberland County Democratic Organization, $15,000 to the Passaic County Democrats, $10,000 to the Essex County Democratic Committee, $1,000 to the Somerset County Democrats. In August 2015, Sweeney donated $25,000 to the Salem County Democratic Committee. In September 2015, he donated $37,000 to the Cape May Regular Democratic Organization, $35,000 to the Atlantic County Democratic Committee, $25,000 to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization and $5,000 to the Cumberland County Democratic Organization. His contributions also included $5,000 to the Union County Democratic Committee and $2,000 to the Atlantic Democratic Committee, both in February of 2015.

This year, Fulop has donated $25,000 to the Monmouth County Dems (in June), $400 to the Mercer County Democratic Committee, $600 to the Essex County Democratic Committee, $10,000 to the Somerset County Democratic Committee and $400 to the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee. In October 2015, he gave the Mercer County Democratic Committee $37,000, the Somerset County Democratic Committee $10,000, the Warren County Democratic Committee $2,500,  the Hunterdon County Dems $5,000 and the Monmouth County Democratic Committee $8,500. In November 2015, Fulop contributed $10,000 to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization. In September 2015, Fulop gave the Essex County Democratic Committee and the Mercer County Democratic Committee $10,000 each. Also in September, Fulop gave the Bergen County Democratic Committee $37,000. Fulop’s total contributions to county committees in 2015 reached $124,000.

Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop could have an opening against Senate President Steve Sweeney in 2017 if he continues to criticize Sweeney's ties to power broker George Norcross

Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop.

What are the 2017 implications?

The donating habits of the three Democratic candidates who have been most giving with county organizations hint at the ties that are taking shape ahead of the 2017 Democratic primary. While only Murphy has officially declared, by donating money, the other candidates are alluding to where they are aiming to forge allegiances and secure the ever-helpful county party line in the primary race.

An assessment of Sweeney’s contributions when compared with Fulop or Murphy demonstrates that, more often than not, the legislator is sticking close to his roots and targeting South Jersey. However, donations in places like Passaic County, Essex County, Middlesex County, and Somerset County show that Sweeney has not yet disqualified himself from achieving the party line in those places.

Unlike Sweeney, Murphy’s donations are far-reaching. Since he has never held elected office, by donating to counties as varied and geographically separate as Passaic, Sussex and Atlantic County, it is clear that Murphy is attempting to bring his reach statewide.

Fulop appears to be taking a North Jersey-centric approach to his county committee support. His largest donations target the densely-populated northern areas.

What about Republicans?

According to the ELEC report, Republicans have been much less giving with county organizations than Democratic rivals. While ELEC identified Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Evesham Mayor Randy Brown, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and businessman Joseph Rudy Rullo as potential candidates, only Bramnick and Kean’s donations to county organizations are on par with the top three donating Democrats. However, ELEC did note that Guadagno “cannot make contributions to county parties because she has no individual fundraising committee apart from the governor’s campaign committee.”

Ciattarelli

Ciattarelli has significantly upped donations to county parties in 2016.

Bramnick’s donations this year include $2,400 to the Somerset County Republicans and $2,5000 to the Hunterdon County Republican Committee. Bramnick also made donations under $1,000 each to the Monmouth County Republicans, the Ocean County Republicans, the Somerset County Republicans and the Morris County Republicans. Bramnick has made $330,783 total in donations to county committee organizations since 2012.

Kean’s donations this year include donations of under $1,000 to Union and Somerset Counties. He has donated $1,350 total to these organizations this year and $202,533 since 2012. His biggest donation year, by far, was 2013 when he made donations totaling $105,383 to county party organizations.

While Ciattarelli’s total donations to county organization since 2012 only equals $129,974, the assemblyman has by far out-donated either Kean or Bramnick this year. According to reports up to June 30, Ciattarelli’s 2016 donations have so far been $31,537. That uptick in donations might mean that he is seriously considering a gubernatorial run and attempting to shore up alliances accordingly.