Burnished by record spending by outside groups, the closer-than-expected New Jersey Governor’s race cost $90.7 million, according to an analysis by the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
But the numbers are clearly inflated by numbers that are double counted as a result of transfers between groups, leaving it nearly impossible to say how much was spent on the race between Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and his Republican challenger, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli.
Some major donors, like the Carpenters and Laborers unions, contributed seven-figure amounts to Our NJ, a group set up by the Democratic Governors Association.
According to Jeff Brindle, ELEC’ executive director, 84% of the independent spending – about $23.7 million – was spent on Democrats, while $4.6 million helped the GOP.
Brindle says that Murphy vs. Ciattarelli is the second-most expensive gubernatorial contest in state history after Democrat Jon Corzine and Republican Doug Forrester self-funded their 2005 campaigns. ELEC estimates that Corzine vs. Forrester, which cost $88.1 million sixteen years ago, is actually $124.8 million when adjusted for inflation.
“The amount of independent spending this year is an increase of 69 percent compared to the previous high of $24.5 million,” said Brindle. “At this rate, independent groups soon could be out-spending candidates on New Jersey’s gubernatorial elections.”
A group set up by the DGA spent $8.7 million for Murphy, while the Republican Governors Association was in for just $3.8 million.
Some New Jersey Republicans have privately criticized the RGA for their lack of participation, with several high-level GOP insiders blaming former Gov. Chris Christie for telling the RGA that Ciattarelli couldn’t win.
But the RGA polled New Jersey several times and never showed Ciattarelli within the margin of error, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Murphy and Ciattarelli both qualified for the maximum $10.5 million in matching funds under the state’s public financing laws. Murphy, who defeated Ciattarelli by three percentage points and by an 84,248-vote plurality, finished the campaign with $354,365; Ciattarelli, who didn’t get his full match until the final day of the race, ended up with $532,483 cash-on-hand.
Of the three independent candidates, Libertarian Gregg Mele raised the most money: $6,000. Green Party candidate Madelyn Hoffman reported raising $1.874 and Socialist Workers Party nominee Joanne Kuniansky didn’t report anything.