The New Jersey League of Conservation voters promised to financially back challengers against State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) and Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) Thursday.
“The ‘Dirty Duo’ of Joseph Pennacchio and Robert Auth are on notice,” New Jersey LCV Policy Director Henry Gajda said. “As New Jersey LCV gears up to run our largest electoral campaign in state legislative races, we are planning on allocating significant resources to defeating these legislators because of their irresponsible and dangerous track record of voting against the environment.”
Pennacchio and Auth both have failing scores from the League, with the senator’s record on environmental issues earning him a 43% score and Auth’s winning him a score of just 38%.
Political spending groups affiliated with the LCV have put sizeable sums into some past races, including hundreds of thousands of dollars backing Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign and tens of thousands to State Sen. Kip Bateman’s (R-Branchburg) re-election bid that year.
It’s not clear whether it’ll be able to put up similar sums this year. Filings submitted to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission show the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters PAC had a balance of just $16,604.55 at the end of the first quarter.
The New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund, its super PAC, had just $3,909.65 in reserves after raising nothing between January and the end of March.
Pennacchio this year faces a challenge from environmental activist Christine Clarke, while Auth is fielding challenges from Karlito Almeda, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), and Demarest Mayor Melinda Iannuzzi.
The League has endorsed each of those Democratic challengers.
“New Jersey LCV is going to put the environment front and center during this campaign season, highlighting the crucial role our elected representatives play in curbing climate change and protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink,” League board chair Julia Somers said.
The senator derided the attack, charging the environmental group was absent during a push to reopen lakes closed in 2019 because of algae blooms.
“Where were they and where were my challengers when they shut down Greenwood Lake and Lake Hopatcong a couple years ago with the HABs?” Pennacchio said, using an acronym for harmful algal blooms. “Where were they with solutions? It seemed like they were awfully silent then. Who was out there in the forefront making sure these lakes were open?”
The LCV has endorsed Democratic candidates in a series of other legislative districts, including full slates in the second, 22nd, 25th, 26th and 39th districts.
The endorsed Assembly candidates Mark Natale and Allison Eckel in the eighth but passed over State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham), who jumped ship from the Republican party in January 2019.
“It’s time for more leaders who understand the job-creating economic opportunities of positioning our state at the forefront of wind and solar development, the far-reaching implications of climate change across industries and sectors, and the importance of diligent collaborative work to ensure a just, fair transition,” Clarke said. “Our district needs officials who will lead on policy, while fighting to protect our water, forests and air quality here with appropriate funding.”
Environmental issues in New Jersey are received differently than they are nationally. Republicans, especially ones living in shore communities, don’t hold the same animus toward renewable energy frequently seen at the national level, though some members do question the science behind climate change.
“I will hold my environmental credentials up against anybody,” Pennacchio said. “When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I just don’t complain about it.”
This article was updated with comment from Pennacchio at 2:23 p.m.