The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission unanimously denied a second application for public matching funds filed by Phil Rizzo’s gubernatorial campaign, ruling statute did not allow ELEC to approve the Hudson County pastor’s late and deficient filing.
Rizzo, who is seeking the Republican nod to take on Gov. Phil Murphy, initially filed for public financing on April 6, a day after the April 5 deadline. That application was denied because of its tardiness and because it failed to provide information about how the candidate intended to spend his money.
John Carbone, an attorney for the campaign, said a last-minute “cascade” of donations, many of which were made on April 5, prevented the campaign from filing on time.
Though the April 6 application included necessary information about receipts above the $490,000 qualifying threshold, information about the campaign’s planned spending came as a trickle over the next two weeks, until Rizzo’s team filed a new application on April 19.
“The case before us, Mr. Chair, I think, and this has been conceded to by counsel for the applicant, established that on April 5th neither of those two pieces of information were provided,” ELEC Commissioner Stephen Holden said. “That was the deadline. On April 6th, some of that information was provided. The financial information was provided, but the commitment to spend the money wasn’t.”
In some cases, the campaign provided contracts it entered into after the deadline had passed.
“The campaign is to be commended for its integrity because it sent us contracts with regard to its expenditures, and those contracts were dated well after April 5th,” Holden said. “Those two things together tell us, as election law enforcement commissioners, election laws have not been complied with.”
The denial is a major blow to Rizzo, who is one of four Republicans seeking his party’s nomination. Had his application succeeded, he would have become the second Republican to qualify for public funds.
Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, the GOP primary frontrunner, has received just shy of $2.9 million in public dollars, about 63% of the $4.6 million cap for the primary.
Gov. Phil Murphy, the only Democrat on the ballot for the governorship, has maxed out his primary match.
Though ELEC unanimously voted down Rizzo’s applications, its commissioners appeared to agree that the requirement to report expenditures when applying for public dollars did not make much practical sense.
“How is somebody who receives x hundred thousand dollars over a weekend with the deadline being Monday is supposed to line up the expenditures of that money by Monday at 5 p.m.,” ELEC Chairman Eric Jaso said. “One does not, in the normal course and certainly hopefully not in the campaign, commit to hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenditures before there’s money in the bank.”
The commission has previously asked the legislature remove that requirement, but lawmakers have not moved to do so.