A report on general election financial activity released today by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission shows independent spending by special interest groups in state campaigns is at a record high, even with three weeks to go before Election Day.
Jeff Brindle, ELEC executive director, said in today's report that not counting any money spent on ballot questions, $21 million has been independently spent in state campaigns. That's roughly one-third higher than the previous record of $14.1 million in 2009, when the bulk of independent spending fell onto that year's gubernatorial election.
The fight over raising the minimum wage has been the focus of spending on statewide ballot questions, the report found. Overall, roughly $1.6 million has already been spent on ballot questions, trumping the $844,102 spent on them in 2009.
Among the biggest spenders this year: the Committee for Our Children's Future; Garden State Forward; One New Jersey; the Republican Governors Association; and the Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security.
So-called "battleground" districts, where races have been known to be competitive, have seen the most dollars spent, the report found. This follows a trend in recent years that is likely to continue, Brindle said.
"Given the large infusion this year of independent dollars, it is likely that spending in one or more districts is likely to top the all-time record of $6.1 million set in 2003 in the Fourth Legislative District," he said.
The 10 most contested districts out of 40 overall have also made up for 75 percent of spending statewide by legislative candidates. District 14, which encompasses parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties, tops the list, with $1.8 million spent there as of Oct. 7.
Districts 38 and 3 came in at second and third respectively on the list, with roughly $1.7 million already spent on races in each.
"The stakes are huge this year, and the heavy spending we see already in these battleground districts makes that clear," Brindle said.