The 2017 gubernatorial race was the second most expensive race for governor in New Jersey history.
The race, partially fueled by record spending from independent groups, saw candidates spend more than $79 million. Independent groups, such as the New Jersey Education Association, spent $24.5 million on the election, a new record in the state, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“The $24.5 million spent independently on the election not only sets a new record but reflects the growing dominance of these groups in national and New Jersey elections,” Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director, said in a statement. “However, public disclosure rules for these committees are woefully outdated. Some of these groups deserve credit because they voluntarily disclose their contributions and expenditures. But New Jersey’s current law is so inadequate that most independent spending can be done without voters ever knowing who provided the funds.”
Brindle said ELEC is strongly urging both parties to pass legislation that closes loopholes and create a full disclosure on independent spending.
Despite the record independent spending, the final total this campaign was lower than the 2005 race between Democrat Jon Corzine and Republican Doug Forrester, which totaled $88 million spent.
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That campaign, won by Corzine, was highlighted by personal spending by both candidates. Corzine spent $27.4 million of his own money. Unlike more recent campaigns in New Jersey, there was very little independent spending by special-interest groups.
Brindle said it wasn’t a surprise that independent spending soared during this election, because it was one of only two gubernatorial races in the country.
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy spent $14.5 million during the general election, more than twice as much as the other six candidates combined. The others included Republican Kim Guadagno, Green Party Candidate Seth Kaper-Dale and several independents.
Guadagno finished second in the spending race, with $5.6 million.
Several candidates also spent their own money on campaigns. Murphy, however, blew past all competitors by spending $22.5 million from his own pocket, most of which came during the pre-primary period and the primary campaign, according to ELEC. He used a different strategy in the general election, choosing to accept funds from the gubernatorial public financing program.
Even if Guadagno had been able to keep up with Murphy’s spending, the results likely would have remained the same, according to election experts.
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“There were a number of factors working in Murphy’s favor. … Money was one of them,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “But we had a Republican for eight years. There is Christie fatigue. (President Donald Trump) hasn’t been good for New Jersey Republicans, and New Jersey tends to vote Democratic anyway.”
Weingart said Guadagno’s perceived strength, that being her experience in politics, ended up being a negative because she couldn’t get out from who she got the experience from, Gov. Chris Christie.
Still, while the gubernatorial race did not break New Jersey’s record for the most expensive in history, there is still a good chance that the overall spending on legislative races will shatter election records.(tncms-asset)7419404c-d4af-11e7-a268-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Going into the election, reports from ELEC already suggested spending by special-interest groups had hit a new all-time high, with much of that spent in South Jersey.
The final reports on spending in the legislative races should be available within the next week.