The Sweeney, NJEA Battle Hits $15.8 Million Mark

And it could go up to $20 million when all is said and done, an exorbitant amount for a state Senate race.

Steve Sweeney. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Supporters and opponents of Senate President Steve Sweeney have spent at least $15.8 million on the race for his Senate seat this year — a figure that already doubles the previous spending record for a legislative race in New Jersey, according to a report from the Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The fierce battle between Sweeney and the NJEA  could reach $20 million when it’s all said and done, according to ELEC.

The latest figures show that $5.5 million was spent on the Senate race last month, from Oct. 6 to Oct. 27.

That escalation has come mostly from Sweeney’s side as the Democratic leader and his allies contest an onslaught of attack ads labeling him as a “pay-to-play” politician enabling Gov. Chris Christie’s agenda.

The New Jersey Education Association has spent roughly $5.3 million statewide this year on legislative races through its 527 group, Garden State Forward, according to ELEC.

The group does not break down how much it spends on each district on its disclosure forms, but ELEC projects that the group has put at least $4.5 million into Sweeney’s district by assuming all television and web ad buys were spent there. The ELEC analysis, however, does not include what the NJEA has spent on direct-mail literature, which has also been a feature of their Sweeney attacks.

A pro-Sweeney super PAC, New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow, has spent nearly $4 million. General Majority PAC, a group tied to South Jersey power broker George Norcross, contributed $2 million to New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow. The Carpenters Fund for Growth and Progress has spent $1.25 million to help Sweeney, including $250,000 it gave to General Majority.

Three other groups have collectively added $783,000 to the district spending total.

The latest totals show Garden State Forward spent roughly $442,000 from Oct. 6 to Oct. 27, while New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow poured in $1.3 million during the same period. General Majority PAC gave an additional $1.15 million to the Sweeney super PAC and the Carpenters Fund for Growth and Progress spent $494,000 to boost Sweeney during the three-week period.

The NJEA is propping up Sweeney’s Republican challenger, Fran Grenier, who has spent a comparatively minuscule $130,000 through his campaign committee. Sweeney’s campaign has spent $1.4 million, more than 10 times as much. When counting Assembly running mates in the 3rd district, spending from campaign committees has totaled $3.1 million, almost all of it from the Democrats.

The candidates have more than $829,000 cash on hand. Assuming those reserves are emptied before Tuesday’s election, ELEC projects the race would cost $16.6 million. That shatters the spending record set in 2003, when Democrat Sen. Fred Madden and Republican George Geist poured $6.1 million, or $8.2 million in current dollars, into the 4th district.

The Sweeney, NJEA Battle Hits $15.8 Million Mark