Every election cycle, independent political action committees spend hundreds of millions of dollars aiding candidates in states and districts across the country, and 2022 is no exception. New Jersey’s congressional races have collectively witnessed more than $10 million in outside spending, money that could shape who wins and loses in key districts.
Much of the spending in House races traditionally comes from the “big four” political action committees: the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) for Republicans, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the House Majority PAC (HMP) for Democrats. But other groups often get involved too, like identity- and issue-focused groups or front groups that simply serve as a money repository for a single candidate.
No matter where the money comes from, it can have a huge impact on election results. Tracking these expenditures through OpenSecrets and ProPublica tells us who has the spending edge in each district, and also provides insight into how the parties are approaching the congressional playing field.
For simplicity’s sake, this story will only look closely at expenditures of $100,000 or more. In some races, outside committees have dropped a few thousand dollars to support their preferred candidate, but that kind of investment simply doesn’t make much of a dent in today’s money-saturated political environment.
7th district: Tom Malinowski (D) vs. Tom Kean Jr. (R)
Total spending: $5,434,061
R: $4,292,156 (79%)
D: $1,141,905 (21%)
The New Jersey race that’s seen the most outside spending so far is also its most competitive: the 7th district matchup between Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) and former State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield). After narrowly defeating Kean in 2020, Malinowski is regarded as the underdog for re-election, and Republican groups have spent heavily to press Kean’s advantage.
The CLF has spent $3.6 million attacking Malinowski so far, and the NRCC has joined in with another $691,000. Ads from the two PACs hit Malinowski on a variety of topics, including taxes, government spending, and a House Ethics Committee inquiry into Malinowski’s stock trading.
Top Democratic groups, on the other hand, have spent relatively little to defend the congressman. The HMP has spent $794,000 attacking Kean, primarily on abortion, and the DCCC announced yesterday that it would spend $100,000 on a coordinated ad buy with Malinowski. (This latter expenditure is recent enough that it is not yet included in outside trackers’ calculations.)
Two other groups – the Moderate Party Independent Fund (a Democratic front organization) and Service Employees International Union Local 1199 – have also spent $160,000 and $121,000, respectively, to boost Malinowski and slam Kean.
Malinowski is a strong fundraiser, so he’s been able to offset Kean’s outside money advantage with his own spending; he’s spent nearly $5 million this cycle to Kean’s $2.6 million. But the relative lack of support he’s gotten from outside Democratic groups is an indication that many Democrats don’t see much hope in holding the 7th district.
3rd district: Andy Kim (D) vs. Bob Healey (R)
Total spending: $2,880,279
R: $2,767,910 (96%)
D: $112,369 (4%)
In second place for most outside spending is the 3rd district, where Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) faces Republican businessman Bob Healey, but the vast majority of the spending so far has come from a single group: Garden State Advance.
If that PAC doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because it didn’t exist prior to Healey’s candidacy; Healey’s family is independently wealthy from the yacht manufacturing business Healey’s late father founded, and Healey’s mother has bankrolled Garden State Advance since its creation in the spring. So far, the group has spent $2.8 million, most of it attacking Kim via mailers and TV ads.
A few groups have made small expenditures in Kim’s favor, but they’re insignificant compared to the blitz from Garden State Advance.
Just like Malinowski in the 7th district, however, Kim isn’t letting himself get drowned out; Kim has spent $3.6 million so far this cycle, while Healey has spent $2.2 million, much of which also came from his own pockets. Kim is considered the favorite, and major party organizations on both sides have not seen the race as competitive enough to get involved.
11th district: Mikie Sherrill (D) vs. Paul DeGroot (R)
Total spending: $1,090,067
D: $1,090,067 (100%)
R: $0 (0%)
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) already has a huge financial advantage against former Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot, and outside groups have only added to the disparity, spending about $1.1 million and counting in support of the congresswoman.
Most of the money has come from three groups. Shield PAC – a group dedicated to supporting moderate Democrats – has spent $458,000 on mailers, polling, and border security-themed digital ads, while two veterans groups, With Honor Fund and VoteVets, have collectively spent $581,000 on ads. VoteVets also released new advertising just today, an expenditure that does not seem to have been reported yet.
DeGroot has received absolutely no outside help of his own, and he’s only spent $357,000 in the cycle so far; Sherrill has spent $5.5 million. None of the “big four” national groups seem to regard the race as a top priority.
5th district: Josh Gottheimer (D) vs. Frank Pallotta (R)
Total spending: $612,677
D: $598,526 (98%)
R: $14,151 (2%)
Like Sherrill, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) would be dramatically outspending Republican Frank Pallotta no matter what, but outside groups have pitched in to help anyways.
Center Forward, a centrist group that also spent a small amount backing Sherrill, has dropped $445,000 on digital ads supporting Gottheimer. Another $153,000 came from Opportunity for All Action Fund, a mysterious group that popped up right before the Republican primary to help Pallotta beat a more electable Republican candidate.
And the HMP has begun hitting the airwaves in support of Gottheimer, though that hasn’t been logged by any outside money tracker yet.
Gottheimer, the Human Fundraising Machine, has spent $2.1 million so far and still has $14 million in the bank; Pallotta, who hasn’t been self-funding his campaign the way he did in 2020, has spent $575,000.
Two other districts have seen substantial outside spending this cycle, but they’re not the districts one might expect. The 4th district is solidly Republican, and the 8th district is even more solidly Democratic, but both have witnessed significant expenditures from independent groups.
In the 4th district, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Manchester) has been the beneficiary of more than $100,000 – OpenSecrets and ProPublica disagree on exactly how much – from Autism Hear Us Now PAC, an autism advocacy group seemingly devoted to re-electing Smith and two other representatives, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-California) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama).
Much of the spending came during the primary election, when Smith faced several right-wing challengers, but the group has continued to spend on his behalf even into the uncompetitive general election.
And in the 8th district, Port Authority Commissioner Rob Menendez got help from Protect Our Future PAC, which spent $250,000 to help him win the Democratic primary. (He won easily against lackluster opponents.)
Protect Our Future is the creation of cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who involved himself in Democratic primaries around the country this cycle, ostensibly in support of candidates who emphasize pandemic preparedness. In certain races, Protect Our Future tried to play kingmaker – a staggering $11 million was dropped on one unsuccessful candidate in Oregon – but in others, like New Jersey’s 8th, the group dropped a small amount to support someone who was already likely to win anyways.