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The New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Legislative candidates’ fundraising highest in decades, ELEC says

Democrats head into final days of primary cycle with massive cash advantage

By Nikita Biryukov, May 18 2021 10:55 am

Fundraising among legislative candidates jumped to the highest levels in at least two decades, the Election Law Enforcement Commission announced Tuesday.

Candidates to state office reported raising $30.7 million dollars 29 days out from the state’s primaries, though they’ve held onto much of the money, spending just $14.6 million.

Most of the money is with Democrats, who’ve raised nearly $25 million so far. Republicans have raised about $5.8 million. The spending advantage also lies with Democratic candidates. So far, they’ve spent just shy of $12 million, while Republican spending is at roughly $2.7 million.

They also have a significant advantage on cash on hand. Democrats reported having a little less than $13 million banked, while Republicans had about $3.1 million in their war chests.

“From a party perspective, a large reserve also makes it easier to shift money from safe legislative districts to so-called ‘battlegrounds’ where the two parties are on more even footing among voters,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Money doesn’t guarantee victory. But it helps.”

Incumbents were responsible for the vast majority of fundraising and spending so far. Those already holding office have raised about $27.9 million, while challengers have brought in just $2.8 million.

Both incumbents and challengers have spent a little under half their money, with the former group expending $13.4 million and the latter paying out roughly $1.2 million.

The incumbent cash-on-hand advantage is more than nine-to-one. They have $14.5 million banked to their challengers roughly $1.6 million.

“Incumbents tend to draw more funds than challengers because they usually are much better known. Plus, they already are positioned to exert influence on legislation and, unlike most challengers, they may have substantial experience,” Brindle said.

Brindle suggested the fundraising figures, still among the highest in the last 20 years when adjusted for inflation, may be fueled by the number of incumbents not seeking re-election.

Across both houses, 12 legislators are not running for another term.

Spending by independent groups hasn’t reached stratospheric levels. Only four groups—the Operating Engineers’ Stronger Foundations, the NJEA’s Garden State Forward, Women for a stronger New Jersey and America’s Future First — have put money into races so far.

Among those, Stronger foundations has spent the most by far. The group has put $186,629 into races, with the bulk ($138,870) going into the 26th legislative district, where Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce is running off the line in Morris County against Assemblyman Jay Webber and former Pompton Lakes Councilman Christian Barranco.

Morris County accounts for more than 70% of the district’s Republican primary vote.

The race there is the only one where Garden State Forward and America’s Future First have been active. They’ve put $98,493 and $23,560 into the contest, respectively.

Women for a Stronger New Jersey reported spending $46,012, though they did break their expenditures down by legislative district.

Stronger Foundations has also put $19,409 into the 20th district and $28,350 into the 37th district, where Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) are competing to succeed Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck).

Weinberg is not seeking re-election.

Democrats — particularly Democratic senators — make up most of the top-10 flush candidates.

At roughly $1.1 million, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has the most cash on hand of any legislator, followed closely by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo ($989,164) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari ($925,612).

Two Assemblymen, Appropriations Vice Chair Gary Schaer ($495,708) and Telecommunications Committee Chairman Wayne DeAngelo ($443,772) made the top 10.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) was the only Republican to make it into the top 10. He reported having $461,662 in reserves.

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