It’s late May in New Jersey, and that means Republicans are accusing their primary opponents of being in the tank for Democrats.
District 39 incumbents Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) and Assemblywoman DeAnne DeFuccio (R-Upper Saddle River) earlier this week attacked challengers John Azzariti, a Saddle River Councilman, and Jon Kurpis, a former Saddle River GOP chairman, over donations to Democrats from a PAC with ties to Azzariti.
“Top-Democrat donor Azzariti and Kurpis will say anything to hide their record of funding Phil Murphy, not showing up for their insider-appointed jobs, and liberal positions on the issues,” the incumbents’ campaign said.
Their attack is a reference to the New Jersey Anesthesia PAC, the political arm of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Azzariti is a member of the New Jersey State Society of Anesthesiologists and a delegate to the national group. He is also an ASA alternate delegate and its alternate director.
The PAC donated $6,300 to Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign. It gave $41,460 to Democratic legislative candidates and leadership groups that year, significantly more than the $11,900 it disbursed to Republican candidates and PACs that year.
There’s no evidence Azzariti played a part in making those donations, despite his position as an ASA delegate. The group has reported only two expenditures this year — a $5,600 donation to Azzariti’s campaign and a $2,500 contribution to NJ Senate Democratic Majority, a leadership PAC.
The challengers met the attack with one of their own, falling onto a GOP primary favorite already employed by their rivals, calling DeFuccio a “liberal Democrat masquerading as a Republican.”
“Despite the false and misleading smear campaign our opponents have waged, John has only and exclusively donated over $100,000 of his own money to Republican candidates,” they said in a statement Thursday. “To use an industry PAC to mislead voters into believing John has supported Phil Murphy is pathetic and reeks of desperation.”
Records maintained by the Election Law Enforcement Commission show Azzariti has donated exclusively to Republican candidates and groups since at least 2001, though he gave $1,000 to the New Jersey Anesthesia PAC, and it’s possible some of that money went to Democrats.
Kurpis has a far less lengthy record of state-level political giving. ELEC records show him making a single $500 donation to Gov. Chris Christie’s inaugural ball in 2010.
The exchange is the latest in a bitter contest for Assembly in the 39th district that has pitted longtime running mates against each other.
After a fractious contest to succeed State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest) after his death in February that was won by State Sen. Holly Schepisi, the senator endorsed Azzariti and Kurpis against Auth and DeFuccio, whom Bergen Republicans picked to succeed Schepisi in the Assembly.
Schepisi will appear on the Bergen County Republican line with Auth and DeFuccio. In the district’s three Passaic County towns, she’ll be on the line with her endorsed candidates.
Auth took issue with an earlier attack the challengers launched over his voting record, charging he abstained on measures critical to the state’s pandemic response.
He said Azzariti and Kurpis should ask Schepisi to withdraw her endorsement of them, citing identical votes on four virus-related measures.
“My record on standing up to Phil Murphy’s dictatorial attitude throughout COVID and fighting for our small businesses and families is clear,” he said. “Unlike my liberal opponents who believe government is always the answer, I was on the ground helping people one-on-one and there are countless examples of it.”