The continued growth of independent contributions to state election campaigns has increased calls by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to reform the current system.
Spending in New Jersey elections by outside, independent groups has risen 11,458 percent over the past 12 years, according to the commission.
The continued increase in outside spending has contributed to the lessening of the impact of political parties in the state, said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the commission.
“New Jersey’s law is so antiquated that nearly all $114 million spent independently since 2007 could have been done with zero donor disclosure,” Brindle said.
Contributions from outside special interest groups are having a huge impact on the state political scene, said Ben Dworkin, director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.
“It’s having a tremendous influence on elections,” Dworkin said. “Historically, money is not the sole determining factor in an election’s outcome — the person who spends the most doesn’t always win, but usually wins.”
Independent groups spent $47.5 million on last year’s election, more than triple the sum spent by the two state parties and four legislative leadership committees.
The governor’s seat and all 120 legislative seats were up for reelection.
“Traditional committees used by the two major parties to raise funds for New Jersey elections seem to be in relentless decline,” Brindle said. “Party committees are now regularly outgunned by independent groups during New Jersey’s statewide elections.”
Among the changes proposed by the commission are including the implication and updating of pay-to-play laws, enacting legislation changes to strengthen political parties, and requiring independent special interest spenders to disclose contributors and expenditures just like candidates and parties.
“If N.J. Election Law Enforcement Commission-recommended changes are not made to the campaign finance system that strengthen political parties and offset the growing clout of independent groups, the electoral system in New Jersey will be unrecognizable in a very short number of years,” Brindle said.
The state’s current campaign finance laws are based upon limits and disclosures, Dworkin said.
“When you have the rise of these outside groups, it eliminates both of them,” Dworkin said. “It undermines the chosen way the state of New Jersey regulates and no one knows who is giving.”
Even if new regulations are enacted, it could be difficult to stop independent money from affecting elections, Dworkin said.
“Money and politics is like water on pavement — it always finds the cracks,” Dworkin said. “People are going to find a way to get around them.”