As 2015’s sleepy Assembly elections start fading from memory, Jeff Brindle of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission is warning of a an increase in PAC spending that could nearly double 2013’s record independent cashflow when candidates get in line for the governor’s office and the state Senate in 2017.
PAC spending rose to an historic $41 million high in 2013, the last time that voters turned out for a busy ticket with gubernatorial, senate and assembly election candidates on the ballot. Brindle said that a high-profile gubernatorial contest and the possibility of a referendum to allow casino gaming outside Atlantic City could drive even more independent interest groups and super PACs into the fray.
“I would predict that number would go up to between 60 and 70 million,” said Brindle. “If we have the casino gambling question on the ballot, then it’s quite possible that independent groups will be even more involved.”
Brindle stressed that he sees tougher campaign finance laws and stronger county and state-level political parties as the alternative to bloated PAC totals.
“If nothing is done with regard to greater transparency for spending from independent groups and strengthening political parties, then I see a continuation of the trend in 2017 or an acceleration of the trend of the influence of independent groups over the process.”
While the electoral landscape will likely stay competitive or become more volatile in districts like the first and second where gaming looms large for the region’s economy, Brindle said not to count on 2015’s Democratic upset in the 11th ironing itself out before the next legislative contest.
“I think the 11th district is going to be competitive from here on out based on what happened this time around. Next time is a gubernatorial election, which depending on who the candidates are and how strong they are in those areas, that’s going to impact that as well.”
The 11th district saw one of this year’s biggest upsets when newcomers Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling beat out Republican incumbents Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande. The district saw significant TV ad spending from the NJEA-backed General Majority PAC, which dominated 2015’s independent contributions.
“I’m always cautiously optimistic that reforms will be taking place,” he said of the possibility that super PACs like General Majority will face a less welcoming legal climate going forward. As for whether reforms will take place in time for a 2017 cycle that many see as the battle to succeed Governor Chris Christie, Brindle called the likelihood of reform “anybody’s guess.”