Most lawmakers, including those with safe seats, did not contribute anything to their party’s legislative leadership committees during the first quarter of 2023, as Democrats and Republicans prepare for several hotly-contested Senate and Assembly races across the state this year.
With a relatively low number of truly competitive districts on each side, legislative leaders traditionally look to their caucus to help fund their efforts to defend vulnerable colleagues or pick up seats.
“It either means that lawmakers don’t yet have their eye on the prize, or they’re counting on others to do the work,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “You might expect that caucuses gearing up for a hotly contested cycle would not leave any stone unturned.”
After two decades in the minority, Republican legislators are putting more money into the statewide campaign to pick up and defend seats than their Democratic counterparts.
Three Republican senators have put a combined $55,000 into Senate Republican Majority: Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) and Minority Whip Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton) each contributed $25,000 from their campaign funds, while Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) gave $5,000. But the other twelve Republicans in the Senate haven’t kicked in anything yet.
On the Assembly Republican side, Minority Leader John DiMaio (R-Hackettstown) has contributed $25,000 to the leadership committee he runs. The second biggest candidate donor isn’t even an incumbent: Al Barlas, the Essex County GOP chairman who is seeking an open Assembly seat in the 40th district, has donated $10,000 to help Republicans across the state.
Four other GOP lawmakers have used their campaign accounts to send $5,000 each so far this year: Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), Chris DePhillips (R-Wyckoff), Ned Thomson (R-Wall), and Hal Wirths (R-Wantage). Also donating $5,000 was the Election Fund of Ronald S. Dancer; Dancer died last summer.
An additional $5,000 came from a joint account for two South Jersey assemblymen: Antwan McClellan (R-Ocean City) and Erik Simonsen (R-Lower).
A total of 26 Republicans in the State Assembly – sixteen of them in safe seats — have not given to Assembly Republican Victory.
Just four out of 46 Democrats in the State Assembly have written checks to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee: Assembly Appropriations Chair Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn) contributed $10,000, making her the number one legislator donor; Reginald Atkins (D-Roselle) sent $3,500, Thomas P. Giblin (D-Montclair) gave $1,500, and Shama Haider (D-Tenafly) donated $1,000.
Of the 46 Assembly Democrats, 40 are considered to be in safe districts, although not all of them are seeking re-election. Swain represents the 38th, which is not considered to be safe.
Tracking contributions from Senate Democrats is more confusing: most of the $13,370 received from campaign accounts of the Democratic senators are to pay for their lunches on session and committee days – most of them in $322 increments. Only State Sen. Renee Burgess (D-Irvington) wrote a personal check to pay for her meals.
Still, that $13,370 shows up in the total amount raised by Senate Democratic Majority, the upper house campaign committee, even though one of it is going to elect Democrats. That puts an asterisk next to the Democrats when comparing their fundraising numbers with the GOP. Only Senate Democrats use their leadership PAC as an aggregator for meals in Trenton
Of the sixteen lawmakers retiring this year and not seeking another office, just Oroho, Giblin, and Wirths have donated money in 2023. Others are sitting in ample warchests.
As part of the Election Transparency Act, limits to the four legislative leadership PACs increased from $25,000 to $75,000.