Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle attacked Assemblyman Gordon Johnson over independent expenditures in favor of his State Senate bid made by a PAC linked to Operating Engineers Local 825.
“I am running for State Senate in a primary because I believe in expanding transparency in our political system,” she said Monday. “Meanwhile, Gordon Johnson is doubling down on a flawed and crooked process, teaming up with dark money groups and a Republican-supporting Super PAC.”
Stronger Foundations Inc. and Operating Engineers Local 825 back candidates from both parties. The union endorsed 25 Democrats and six Republicans for the legislature in 2019.
Federal law prohibits super PACS like Stronger Foundations from coordinating with candidates. Put another way, Johnson has no say on whether the group gets involved in his race.
“This is an example of what has been so disconcerting with the Huttle campaign’s approach to honesty and integrity,” Johnson campaign manager Storm Wyche said. “She should know the law and know we do not coordinate with outside organizations on any level — to insinuate otherwise is a shameless misrepresentation of reality.”
The longtime running mates find themselves on opposite ends of an intra-party fight to succeed Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg in the legislature’s upper chamber. The six-term senator is not seeking re-election.
Operating Engineers Local 825 endorsed Johnson in March. Their support typically comes with financial resources and on-the-ground organizing.
A review of Federal Communication Commission filings shows the PAC has not launched any television ads, though it has purchased some digital spots on Facebook.
Those ads vary, though most of its active spots are boosting Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce’s (R-Parsipanny-Troy Hills) re-election bid. A small number of those ads urge voters to cast ballots for DeCroce by attacking Gov. Phil Murphy over business restrictions imposed to blunt the spread of COVID-19.
“All it takes is a simple search to ascertain that Stronger Foundations Inc., the questionable entity behind many of Gordon Johnson’s mailers and ads, is a Republican-controlled Super PAC,” Vainieri Huttle said. “In fact, it is even more alarming that Gordon Johnson, a self-proclaimed progressive candidate, would accept the backing of an organization that at the same time is running attack ads against Governor Murphy.”
Other ads launched by the group urge Johnson’s election to the State Senate and back the re-election of State Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union Township). The union has endorsed Cryan and DeCroce.
Its spending on online ads backing Johnson amounts to less than $2,000, though an exact amount is difficult to ascertain since Facebook’s ad library reports spending in ranges.
“This grandstanding aside, our campaign is proud of our board coalition of support from Governor Murphy and Lt. Governor Oliver, to Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, local officials, grassroots organizers, advocates, and union workers,” Wyche said.