By Lauren Wanko
Independent spending on state campaigns has hit an all-time high in New Jersey and there’s still another three weeks until election day. So far, special interest groups poured about $21 million into this year’s gubernatorial and legislative elections compared to the previous high of $14.1 million spent in 2009.
“You know it’s not really a surprise actually for you know for a couple of years now I’ve kinda been predicting that we’re gonna see independent spending on the rise in New Jersey,” said Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle.
The reason for the uptick?
“I think the trend is following the national level you know if we saw what happened in last few elections a nationally particularly last year with presidential election there was a lot of Superpac activity, billions of dollars. And what usually happens at state level is it follows the trend at national level,” Brindle said.
The $21 million spending spree doesn’t include ballot questions. So far nearly $1.6 million has been spent primarily on the question of whether or not to raise the minimum wage. That compares to over $844,000 spent in 2009.
“What this is doing is it’s drowning out the voices of ordinary voters who should be the ones deciding who wins our elections and what policy gets made,” said NJPIRG Program Associate Peter Skopec.
NJPIRG, a state-based citizen advocacy group, is concerned about the increase in independent spending.
“They’re trying to buy influence and really just advocate for a very narrow segment of the population and very special interest that often are not in line with the public interests,” Skopec said.
NJPIRG is calling for a limit to the amount of money independent groups can spend on elections, greater support for financial contributions from smaller donors and incentives for New Jersey voters to support campaigns.
“It shouldn’t be the size of your wallet that determines the volume of your voice. Our democracy and that’s exactly what we’re seeing happening now,” Skopec said.
So far NJEA spent about $4.6 million on both the gubernatorial and legislative election. And officials there defend the lavish expenditures.
“I think it’s safe to say that this is the most we’ve ever been involved in an election and what because it’s such an important one, we’ve seen such damage done to public education over the last four years. And we just felt it was time to step up and get as much info out as we could,” said NJEA Director of Communications Steve Wollmer.
ELEC is calling for legislation that would require independent groups to disclose their spending to the public.
“The concern that I have is that these groups are assuming many of the roles of traditionally were performed by political parties. The political parties are much more accountable by law then these independent groups,” Brindle said.
Brindle doesn’t expect spending to slow down in the coming weeks. He predicts independent spending will reach about $35 million by election day.