Legislative candidates raised more money in raw dollars than they ever have before in 2021, though inflation-adjusted figures still lag behind previous cycles, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Candidates for state office brought in a little more than $37.3 million during this year’s primaries. That’s more than twice the $14.4 million raised in 2019’s Assembly primaries, but falls short of the nearly $34.9 raised in 2017, the last time the governorship and all 120 seats in the legislature were up on the ballot.
Adjusted for inflation, 2017’s fundraising is equal to about $38.2 billion in 2021 dollars.
Less than a third of the dollars raised, $10.5 million, remained in candidates’ reserves after primary day. Most of that money, about $9.6 million — a whopping 91% of the total raised — was held by incumbents. Challengers had a comparatively meager $920,556 left in their war chests, about 9% of what was raised.
“One advantage of being an incumbent is you usually have a much easier time raising campaign funds. We are seeing the same trend this year,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Since most incumbents have relatively safe seats and face little chance of defeat, they often end the primary with leftover funds that they can use for the general election.”
Most of that money will be rolled over into general election accounts.
Independent spending also swelled in this year’s primaries. Outside groups spent a little more than $2 million on primaries this year, the most since outside groups poured nearly $2.2 million into Senate President Steve Sweeney’s (D-West Deptford) 2017 re-election race during the primary.
Though that money was spent before primary day, both Sweeney and Republican Fran Grenier were unopposed. ELEC viewed the spending as part of a prolonged general-election campaign.
The 37th district, where Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) handily defeated longtime running mate Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) in the primary for Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg’s seat, saw $722,098 in outside dollars.
The bulk of that money, $693,748 came from American Democratic Majority, a PAC with ties to South Jersey Democrats. Another $28,350 came from the Operating Engineers-linked PAC Stronger Foundations Inc., which spent $28,350 in the 37th and $276,629 in districts across the state.
The 26th legislative district, where Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce lost re-election after being dropped from Morris County Republicans’ first-ever organizational line, drew the most outside money.
Five outside groups put a combined $903,887 into the race, most of it backing DeCroce.
With $352,288 disbursed, The New Jersey Coalition of Real Estate was the top spender in the 26th district. The group spent $533,887 overall, placing it second behind only American Democratic Majority, whose spending was confined to the 37th district.
As is usual, Democrats hold an overwhelming cash lead, having outraised their Republican rivals nearly four-to-one during the primary.
Democrats brough in $29.7 million to GOP candidates’ $7.6 million. They spent $21.4 million, while Republicans expended less than $5.4 million.
The majority party still holds a sizeable cash advantage despite the spending disparity. Democratic legislative candidates had just under $8.3 million left in reserves after the primary, while Republicans had less than $2.3 million.
The bulk of the spending and expenditures lay with members in and candidates to the legislature’s upper chamber. Assembly candidates raised under $15.4 million, while Senators and would-be Senators brought in just shy of $22 million.
They spent $15 million to Assembly candidates’ $11.8 million and went into the general election with nearly twice as much money in reserves, $6.8 million to $3.6 million.