A Wednesday report released by New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) reported that while Big Six committee spending doubled from 2014 to 2015, it still fell significantly short of previous years dating back to 2007.
According to the report, the two state parties and their affiliated legislative leadership committees raised $8 million in 2015, spent $8.7 million and finished the year with about $1 million in funds. That compares to party spending in 2007 when the Big Six Committees collectively raised about $19.2 million, spent about $23.4 million and were left with a just over half a million at the end of the year. 2015 fundraising was only slightly higher than the approximately $7 million raised in 2012, a year with no statewide election, and was well below the $13.9 million raised in 2013, the previous cycle with state elections.
The ELEC report said that the lack of 2015 spending partly stems from the fact that the Assembly was at the top of the ticket. While it is a statewide election, the Assembly is not as likely to draw voters to polls as higher-profile races like for Senate and Governor. ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said that, despite that factor, a long-term decline of the traditional party fundraising groups is evident.
“It is clear that traditional party fundraising groups continue to be hampered by several factors,” Brindle said. The Executive Director doubled-down on his recommendation that the legislature “take steps to bolster political parties in the face of growing independent spending by special interest groups, stiff limits on contractor contributions and contribution limits on other contributors that have not been inflation adjusted for more than a decade.”
According to the report, special interest groups like Political Action Committees (PACs) have outspent party groups in three of the past five election cycles. The report claims that, prior to 2007, those groups were routing money through the traditional committees. Since 2002, federal laws and court cases have provided increased incentive for PACs and other special interest groups to spend money directly on elections, rather than routing it through traditional party channels.
“This is a case of the tail increasingly wagging the dog,” Brindle said. “It used to be that state elections mostly were financed by party and candidate committees with direct support from special interest groups.”
In the report, Brindle also recommends “requiring independent groups to follow the same disclosure rules as parties and candidates, simplifying the state’s pay-to-play restrictions on contractors while extending the rules to PACs, allowing contractors to give more to parties and candidates, and applying inflation adjustments to contribution limits that apply to other donors.” Brindle thinks that making these changes can help party groups avoid irrelevancy.
In 2015, the Big Six’s $8.6 million in spending was dwarfed by the $11.6 spent by special interest groups. In 2013, when the governor the senate and the assembly were on the ballot, the disparity is even greater. In that year, Big Six spent $14.7 million while independent groups spent $38.9 million.