Twenty-five special interest groups spent more than $74 million during the 2017 election, according to a report by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the state’s campaign finance watchdog.
That’s over $18 million more than in the 2013 election, during which then-Gov. Chris Christie ran for re-election, as did all 120 members of the state Legislature.
In 2017, then-candidate Phil Murphy ran for governor against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and all 120 legislators again ran to keep their seats.
The 25 groups, according to the ELEC report, consisted of unions, political committees, business groups and ideological associations. In all, 527 groups spent money in the 2017 election.
“In the past, special interest groups used lobbying and political action committees as their main vehicle for influencing public policy,” said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director. “During the last decade, independent groups have quickly become their preferred weapon.”
The report highlights efforts by public contractors to bypass the state’s pay-to-play laws, which set up a stringent process for public contractors who donated to political campaigns and are looking to receive government contracts.
“This is more reason why the Legislature needs to enact ELEC-recommended legislation that would require independent groups to fully disclose their campaign finances while also seeking to strengthen political parties and greatly simplify pay-to-play rules,” Brindle said. “Pay-to-play reform would sharply reduce the amount public contractors could give to PACs.”
The top spender was the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which contributed $9.9 million to Republican Fran Grenier’s bid to unseat Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District.
In support of Sweeney was New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow, which spent $6.4 million to help the Gloucester County Democrat keep his seat. That race was the most expensive state-level race in U.S. history.