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Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Ciattarelli continues to dominate Republican spending fight

Former assemblyman spent more than six times his opponents combined, 11-day pre-primary reports show

By Nikita Biryukov, June 02 2021 10:57 am

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli continues to dominate spending in the GOP primary.

The former assemblyman reported spending about $1.56 million between May 8 and May 25, more than six times the combined spending of the race’s other Republicans.

He raised just shy of $1.2 million, according to 11-day pre-primary reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, and had $922,163 left in his war chest at the end of the reporting period.

The new figures bring Ciattarelli’s total fundraising to about $6.7 million and his total spending to roughly $5.94 million. His cash on hand and fundraising figures include $296,390 in public matching funds he received after May 25.

Ciattarelli is the only Republican gubernatorial candidate to qualify for the state’s public financing program, which lends qualified candidates a two-to-one fund match that can provide up to $4.6 million in public dollars.

Candidates who take part in the program are limited to spending $7.3 million in the primary.

Gov. Phil Murphy, the only Democrat seeking his party’s nomination, is brushing up against that limit. The $367,783 he reported spending over the latest reporting period brings his cumulative expenditures to $7.25 million. He has $584,050 left in reserves after raising just $460 between May 8 and May 25.

The low fundraising is no surprise. The governor has brought a cumulative $7.83 million since launching his re-election campaign. He capped out his public fund match for the primary in January and has little cause to raise money until the general election cycle begins.

Hudson County pastor Phil Rizzo came second in Republican fundraising, bringing in $60,610 during the most recent reporting period. He spent $197,949 and reported having $181,872 left in his war chest.

The new figures bring Rizzo’s cumulative fundraising to $623,873 and his cumulative spending to $442,001.

Hirsh Singh raised just $22,458 over the most recent period while spending $52,005. He had just $40,309 left in his war chest, the lowest of any gubernatorial candidate reporting their raising and spending figures.

Singh, who is running his fifth campaign in four years, has brought in $549,811 so far this cycle and spent $509,502. The overwhelming bulk of that money, $418,000, came from a loan the candidate made to his campaign.

Despite the voluminous fundraising among the race’s frontrunners, candidate spending is about half of what it was by this point in 2017’s gubernatorial race, ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said.

“Candidates in 2017 had spent $28 million through the same period during the last governor’s race in 2017. That is nearly twice as much as the amount so far,” Brindle said. “However, the 2017 primary also had nearly twice as many candidates- 6 Democrats and 5 Republicans.”

This year’s candidates have expended about $14.37 million so far, though outside groups have put another $13.22 million into the state’s gubernatorial contests, bringing the total spent to just shy of $27.6 million.

The entirety of that outside spending has come from New Direction New Jersey, an issues-advocacy non-profit run by Murphy allies, though most of that spending occurred well before the start of this year. It’s spent just $82,668 in 2021.

During the most recent reporting period, it brought in just $15 and spent only $10,470, though Brindle suspected its involvement in the race to ramp up after next week’s primaries.

“While there has been little independent spending during the primary period, nevertheless one committee in the years leading up to the primary has spent slightly less than the candidates themselves,” he said. “Independent spending will pick up in the general election.”

The state has disbursed $8.5 million in public funds to Ciattarelli and Murphy, more than the $6.7 million given to four candidates during the last gubernatorial primary.

Rizzo met the $490,000 fundraising threshold but filed his application for matching funds late and without required information about planned expenditures.

Singh was ineligible for matching funds because he gave his campaign more than $25,000.

A fourth Republican gubernatorial candidate, former Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine, told ELEC he did not intend to spend more than $5,800 on his primary race.

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