The first video advertisements for the local Assembly races were released last week.
They weren’t put out by the candidates or their campaigns.
General Majority PAC, billed as the first national super political action committee dedicated to electing Democratic state legislators, launched a paid, digital ad campaign Friday supporting Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, and running mate and Atlantic County Freeholder Colin Bell. A nearly identical ad was released supporting Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, and his running mate, Bruce Land.
Super PACs, which can receive unlimited amounts of money without disclosing their contributors, are mostly known for getting involved in presidential elections. But the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission called super PACs “active players” in New Jersey elections in its 2014 annual report.
“Their role has broadened,” said Jeff Brindle, the commission’s executive director. “What happens at the national level filters down to the state level and then down to the local level.”
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Independent special interest groups spent more than $42 million in state elections in 2013, according to the election comission. That includes nearly $2 million spent toward the election in the 1st Legislative District and $838,560 spent in the 2nd Legislative District. Those figures, however, are rough estimates, as super PACs only have to disclose campaign spending when an ad expressly supports or opposes a candidate, Brindle said.
Brindle said super PACs are going beyond advertising and are now assuming the traditional roles of the political parties, such as getting involved in voter registration.
Super PACs should be treated the same way as political campaigns and parties, which are highly regulated and must extensively disclose information on its donors and expenses, Brindle said. Campaigns are also subject to limits on how much they can receive from a donor.
General Majority PAC, based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement Friday that it will work across New Jersey to “turn back anti-worker, anti-senior and anti-family tides by electing candidates who will fight to raise the minimum wage, stand up for affordable health care, and oppose efforts to put special interests ahead of middle-class families.”
The General Majority PAC was called Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security in 2013, when it spent $8.7 million in New Jersey elections, including $2.6 million toward the races in the 1st and 2nd Legislative Districts, according to state election records.
Although it’s not required to, General Majority has disclosed at least one of its donors. So far this year, the super PAC has received $50,000 from the Carpenters Fund for Growth and Progress, based in Edison, Middlesex County. The super PAC has spent $44,865 this year.
The 30-second video ad, titled “Lights,” opens with a run-down Atlantic City welcome sign with crooked letters. A man’s voice says “Times are tough in Atlantic City, but the special interests in Trenton would make it worse by building casinos in North Jersey.” The ad later shows pictures of Mazzeo and Bell, who the ad says are “fighting new casinos.”
The ad supporting Andrzejczak and Land is the same, except it substitutes their names and pictures.
The ad campaign isn’t totally accurate. The video’s corresponding website, SaveACJobs.com, says the Democratic candidates are fighting to “defeat the Trenton Republicans who are trying to bankrupt our economy and take thousands of jobs to North Jersey.”
But the four primary sponsors of legislation to put a voter referendum on the November ballot to expand casino gaming outside Atlantic City are all Democrats. Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto, both Democrats, also support expanding casino gaming in the state. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, recently expressed support for the gaming expansion.
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“Only a super PAC, run by outside party bosses and funded by North Jersey casino special interests, would even attempt to cover up Mazzeo's abysmal record of doing nothing to stop North Jersey casinos by trying to make this a partisan issue,” Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, and Atlantic County Freeholder Will Pauls, said in a joint statement. Brown and Pauls are running against Mazzeo and Bell.
Brown cited a resolution he circulated last year opposing the expansion of casino gaming until 2016 that got 24 out of 32 Republican signatures in the Assembly. Mazzeo has said he didn’t sign or circulate the resolution to Democrats because it was nonbinding and therefore ineffective.
Even though that part of the ad isn’t exactly accurate, it can’t be tied to the Democratic candidates. Kevin Stamps, campaign manager for Mazzeo and Bell, noted that under law, the campaign can’t coordinate with any super PAC in any way.
“We are focused on running our campaign and making sure voters recognize that Vince Mazzeo and Colin Bell are fighting for middle-class families, seniors and veterans in Atlantic County,” Stamps said.
A lot of money is expected to be spent this year in the 1st and 2nd Districts, the only districts with both Democratic and Republican incumbents in the Assembly. From 2003 to 2013, the 2nd Legislative District has been the most expensive district in the state, with more than $19.9 million spent by traditional political campaigns and parties and independent groups. The 1st Legislative District had the fourth-highest spending total during that period, with more than $16.4 million.