Independent special interest spending drove the cost of this year’s legislative general election above $30 million, according to this morning’s new 2015 elections analysis of disclosure reports by the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). The spending, which still is considered preliminary, already has established a record high for a year with just Assembly members running.
Spending by Independent Committees and Legislative Candidates through November 20, 2015
GROUP PRIMARY GENERAL COMBINED
General Majority PAC None $ 5,865,657 $ 5,865,657
Garden State Forward* None $ 3,953,952 $ 3,953,952
Carpenters Fund for Growth and Progress** $ 768,796 $ 492,527 $ 1,261,323
National Association of Realtors Fund $ 116,765 $ 268,295 $ 385,060
NJ Coalition of Real Estate $ 39,958 $ 79,423 $ 119,381
New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow*** None $ 25,000 $ 25,000
NJ League of Conservation Voters for a Clean Environment None $ 23,280 $ 23,280
Independent Committees $ 925,519 $10,708,134 $11,633,653
Legislative Candidates $12,527,364 $19,743,918 $32,271,282
TOTAL-ALL $13,452,883 $30,452,052 $43,904,935
Reports filed with ELEC show that through November 20, 2015, special interest groups spent $10.7 million on the general election. Legislative candidates spent just over $19.7 million this fall. Except for one candidate running for a state Senate seat in Legislative District 5, only Assembly members ran for reelection this year. Of the total spending of $30.4 million, independent committees represent 35 percent- the largest share ever for a statewide election. In 2013, independent spending was higher because there was a race for governor and the state Senate. But independent spending represented less than 19 percent of total spending two years ago.
“Independent special interest committees played a bigger role than ever in this year’s election. Their involvement had a dramatic impact,” said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director. Brindle said Democrats not only raised more money as individual candidates but were the main beneficiaries of the independent spending.
“Democrats had a huge funding advantage,” said Brindle. “Virtually all the $10.7 million in independent spending benefited Democratic candidates, plus they also spent 2.5 times more than Republican candidates.”
The result: Democrats not only expanded their majority by four seats but held onto two seats they barely won in 2013 in the 2nd and 38th legislative districts. The Democratic margin is now 52-to-28- the largest since 1979. Compared to three previous elections where the Assembly was the only house up for reelection, 2015 is a record high. The record occurred despite the fact that legislative candidates actually spent more in 2005.
The top ten most expensive districts attracted $12.8 million from legislative candidates and $5.2 million in direct spending reported by independent committees- $18 million total, or 59 percent of total spending. That figure is conservative since the independent spending also paid for general expenses such as polling and administration that were not broken out by district.
Assuming all independent spending benefited target districts, the top ten districts consumed $23.5 million, or 77 percent of the total general election spending.
“A handful of districts typically attract the most campaign money because the voter mix in those districts is more even. That makes them more competitive than most other districts around the state,” said Brindle.
Top Ten Districts by Total Spending Through November 20, 2015
DISTRICT LEGISLATIVE CANDIDATES INDEPENDENT COMMITTEES TOTAL
2 $ 2,900,611 $2,077,623 $ 4,978,234
1 $ 1,736,106 $1,802,412 $ 3,538,518
38 $ 1,830,557 $ 393,741 $ 2,224,298
11 $ 1,503,233 $ 234,118 $ 1,737,351
14 $ 711,695 $ 313,952 $ 1,025,647
16 $ 782,398 $ 250,400 $ 1,032,798
7 $ 926,177 $ 61,157 $ 987,334
32 $ 887,028 $ 7,631 $ 894,659
6 $ 778,996 $ 10,635 $ 789,631
21 $ 746,885 $ 9,054 $ 755,939
TOTALS $12,803,686 $5,160,723 $17,964,409