ELEC Director: Top Campaign Contributor Was NJEA

With less than two months before election day, the broadest-ever review of spending by special interest groups to influence both policy and the outcome of elections has been released. The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) found that from 1999 to 2013, the top 25 contributors spent $311 million. Is there a direct correlation between what they spent and what they got in return? ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the top campaign contributor was the New Jersey Education Association.

In addition to the NJEA, Brindle said that four labor unions were the top four and the Realtors Association was the fifth in terms of contributions and activity with regard to lobbying and independent expenditures.

Gov. Chris Christie has been at odds with labor unions. When asked if the money labor unions are spending is meant to influence policy that goes against Christie in some way, Brindle said there have been a number of significant issues with regard to education over the last couple of years, with regard to charter schools and pensions and other important issues that have to deal with education. He said that there has been an uptick in NJEA’s spending in the last couple of years and almost $20 million in 2014, with $14 million in independent expenditures.

Brindle said that he thinks spending surged because it is following a trend that started at the national level and has filtered down to the state and local levels. He said there are reasons for increased spending. Many people point to Citizen’s United as a catalyst for independent groups, but Brindle said reforms have also been a catalyst for change.

Brindle said that the biggest donors cut both ways between liberals and conservatives. He said that eight out of the 25 top groups were labor unions, but there are also other ideological groups, some party affiliated groups and trade association groups that are involved.

When asked about contributions from Political Action Committees, Brindle said that the real story about PACs is that from 2012 to 2013 there was a 148 percent increase in PAC spending. He said that he thinks one of the reasons why there has been an uptick is because of the pay-to-play law that was enacted in 2006, which included political parties as well as candidates. He said when political parties and candidates were raising less money, there was an increase in PACs. He said that he thinks one of the ramifications of the pay-to-play law was for PAC activity to get stirred up.