Phil Rizzo’s gubernatorial campaign asked the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to reconsider its denial of public matching funds at an emergency meeting Thursday in a letter sent Tuesday that blamed the pandemic and a last-minute swell of donation for the lateness of their initial application.
“The underlying mandate for the issuance of matching funds and public debate, is to allow campaigns to seek the approval of the voters, educate them on the issue, and render an informed expression of the electorate,” campaign attorney John Carbone said in a previously unreported letter to ELEC Commissioners sent Tuesday. “The approval and recognition of candidates for matching funds, enables and engenders the public and voters to intelligently confer the right of governance.”
The Hudson County pastor is one of only two Republican candidates for governor who has met the threshold needed to qualify for public funds, though the commission denied his initial application because it was filed late and did not say how Rizzo intended to spend his funds, among other unspecified deficiencies.
Politico New Jersey was first to report ELEC would give the pastor’s application another look.
The denial was a major blow to Rizzo’s bid to wrest the GOP gubernatorial nomination from former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, who is making his run to oust Gov. Phil Murphy with the support of most of the state’s Republican organizations.
Ciattarelli and Murphy have both qualified for matching funds, and the incumbent has already maxed out the $4.6 million available for the primary. Ciattarelli has received just under $2.9 million from the state.
Carbone said Rizzo’s campaign had raised $537,052 as of April 5, the deadline to submit an application for matching funds. That’s more than the $490,000 needed to qualify for public funds, though they submitted their application a day after the deadline.
The campaign previously said it filed late because of unspecified technical difficulties uploading its application documents, but in the letter, Carbone suggested a last-minute swell of contributions was to blame for the delayed submission.
“Rizzo received 1,102 individual donations online and 108 donations by check as of the deadline of April 5, 2021 for a total of $537,052.00,” he said. “The majority were received in the three-day period before the deadline, which was an unanticipated cascade of contributions, overwhelming the volunteer campaign staff, and slowing the timely posting and submission of these contributions to ELEC.”
ELEC is set to hear the issue at an emergency meeting at 11 a.m. Thursday. It’s not clear whether Rizzo’s application will be heard during the meeting’s public portion. His initial application was denied after a lengthy executive session.
The campaign said ELEC’s compliance director was aware of their fundraising ahead of the April 5 deadline and pointed to restrictions in place to block the spread of COVID-19 as a barrier to soliciting donations.
“The lifeblood of a political campaign is money and contributions, which is constrained and constricted by these pandemic limitations: no in person fund raising, no in person events, no face to face or in person contact, etc. Thus fund raising and contributions are by telephone solicitation or other form of non-personal contact and communication,” Carbone said. “Further the campaigns themselves had limitations on staff’s physical contact, engagement, and gathering.”