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New Jersey Statehouse. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Public contractor contributions dropped to recorded low in 2020

By Nikita Biryukov, April 06 2021 10:53 am

New Jersey’s public contractors tamped down their political contributions last year, dropping their annual giving to the lowest level on record, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Totaled, public contractors gave about $7.8 million in 2020, a 16% drop from the $9.3 million donated in 2019 and just $195,181 less than the $8 million they reported giving in 2012, the previous recorded low, though late or amended reports submitted after April 5 could cause last year’s contributions to exceed 2012’s figures.

The pandemic likely affected the giving, said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle, adding that last year’s political lull — one that saw campaigning drastically shift and cancelled most fundraising events for months as all attention turned to the virus — likely contributed to the decline.

But ELEC officials don’t expect that lull to continue into this year’s state elections.

“With elections looming for both the governor’s seat and both legislative houses this year as well as more fundraising events being held due to an easing of the virus threat, contributions from these donors are likely to bounce back,” Brindle said

General Majority PAC, a super PAC with ties to South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, topped the recipients list with $178,200 in contractor donations. It was also at the top last year.

The next three slots were occupied by Middlesex County Democrats. Middlesex County Clerk Nancy Pinkin’s campaign got $157,150, while the campaigns of County Commissioners Leslie Koppel and Charles Tomaro received $156,400 and $149,900 respectively.

A joint committee for Democratic Gloucester County Commissioners Heather Simmons, Lyman Barnes and Jim Jefferson got $147,500 from contractors, and some local candidates and party organizations also made the list.

Mount Laurel Democrats got $111,758, while South Brunswick Democrats received $83,000, and a joint committee for Piscataway Mayor Brian Wahler and council members Gabrielle Cahill, Kapil Shah and Chanelle McCullum were given $107,850.

GOPAC, an outside Republican group, was the only GOP organization to make the list. It received $100,000 from public contractors. But donations to PACs overall were also down, falling to $1 million, their lowest level since 2012, when public contractors last gave $1 million to PACS and other outside groups.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Jack Ciattarelli respectively received $26,000 and $11,200 from public contractors.

Engineering firm Remington & Vernick Engineers topped the list of contributors with $432,700 in donations. The group has been the top donor among public contractor seven times since 2009. Six other engineering firms broke the top ten, with the remaining three slots going to two law firms and the Business and Government Insurance Agency Inc.

Rainnone Coughlin Minchello LLC, the law firm of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) received $5.9 million in contracts and made $141,700 in contributions.

Together, those firms accounted for 29% of public contractor contributions but only 2% of public contracting dollars.

The worth of those contracts also dropped last year, calling to roughly $8.9 billion, down about 9% from last year’s total of $9.8 billion.

The lion’s share of those contracts, worth about $5.8 billion, went to Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates. The insurer’s affiliates made just $45,000 in contributions. The top contracted firms, which include Verizon and a series of construction companies, among others, won 80% of contract dollars, a little less than $7.1 billion.

Their $139,112 in giving was just 2% of last year’s total.

The State government was responsible for $6.7 billion of awarded contracts, about 75% of the total, with municipalities responsible for $776 million and independent authorities, like the Economic Development Agency, doled out $640 million in contract dollars.

With $5.8 billion in contracts, the Department of Human Services topped of contracting agencies. The Department of Transportation’s $782 million in contracts put it in second, with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s $312 million winning it third place.

Middlesex County’s $68 million given put it in sixth, with the remaining slots occupied by Elizabeth ($56 million), Newark ($44 million), New Brunswick ($35 million) and Somerset County ($35 million).

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