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

NJ lobbying expenses hit all time high in 2019

Influence spending exceeds $100 million for first time in history

By Nikita Biryukov, March 09 2020 10:46 am

Lobbying expenses in New Jersey surpassed the $100 million mark for the first time in history last year, according to data released by the Election Law Enforcement Commission Monday.

Influence firms in the state reported spending $100,093,332 in 2019, though that figure may change once ELEC receives late-arriving reports and amendments.

“After four years during which annual lobbying outlays hovered around $91 million, industry spending now has hit a new, all-time milestone,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle. “Spikes in grassroots lobbying and the number of new clients appear to be key factors.”

The rise was largely driven by increased spending from three of the state’s biggest lobbying groups.

The New Jersey Education Association spent the most among special interest lobbying firms.

The teacher’s union expended $6.2 million on lobbying efforts in 2019, a 1,187% increase from the $484,740 it spent in 2018.

The majority of the group’s spending, $5,894,718, went to communications.

The case was similar for New Direction New Jersey, a non-profit run by close allies of Gov. Phil Murphy.

The group spent nearly eight times as much in 2019, $3,911,200, as it did in 2018, $503,750.

Large portions of the group’s funding came from the NJEA, which gave the 501(c)(4) more than $3.5 million over the last two years.

All of New Direction’s expenditures went toward communications.

Those increases and smaller ones from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and an affiliated lobbying group, Move Health Care Forward NJ Inc., helped push lobbying expenses in the state up by about $8.4 million between 2018 and 2019, an increase of roughly 9.1%.

Much of last year’s spending increase came from a swell in communications expenditures, which more than doubled from where they were in 2018.

The state’s influence groups spent $13.6 million on communications in 2019, the third-highest communications spending total on record. In 2018, they spend just $6.5 million.

“The days when lobbyists depended mostly on buttonholing legislators in the statehouse hallways are long over. They now are often inclined to seek to mobilize grassroots support for or against bills using television, radio, digital, billboards and other advertising methods,” Brindle said. “This strategy can be effective, but it costs money.”

Brindle said it was possible those numbers would jump even further this year, as firms put their weight on either side of a marijuana legalization referendum that will go before voters this November.

“The spending we’ve seen so far on lobbying, while substantial, may just be a warmup act to this year’s star event — the referendum,” Brindle said. “Given the big numbers from other states and the fact that the creation of a lucrative new industry hangs in the balance, it isn’t inconceivable that the fall ballot contest could cost upwards of $10 million.”

The issue has drawn $3.8 million in lobbying money over the past three years. Legalization ballot questions in 17 different states on average costed more than $8 million each, though some of those referendums were more costly than others.

Lobbying firm rankings remained largely unchanged in 2019.

Princeton Public Affairs remained the top-paid firm, with nearly $10.6 million in reported receipts last year.

Public Strategies Impact LLC held its number two spot with $7.4 million earned, and CLB Partners held onto the number three spot with roughly $4 million.

MBI Gluckshaw outpaced the Kaufman Zita Group to take the number four spot. MBI Gluckshaw had receipts of just under $3.1 million, while Kaufman Zita brought in just under $3 million.

Some of the state’s lobbyists hold power outside of their ability to influence legislation by pressuring lawmakers.

ELEC said 111 lobbyists served on boards, commissions and authorities in New Jersey. About a quarter of those serving on boards, 28, hold multiple seats.

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