ELEC Exec. Dir.: Three Ballot Questions Will Drive Up Special Interest Spending

Anticipate record campaign spending in the state this year. Not to influence the election of candidates, but to shape the outcome of ballot questions. On casino gambling, the Transportation Trust Fund and public worker pensions. NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill asked Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle why ballot questions drive special interest spending.

Hill: Mr. Brindle, thanks for joining us. Why do ballot questions drive special interest spending?

Brindle: Well were going to have three ballot questions that are really going to drive up spending and when we are talking about casino gambling — whether they’re going to have it in the northern part of the sate — they’re talking about the Transportation Trust Fund and the pension funds. You have a lot of special interests that have a big stake in those particular questions. So, it’s really going to drive spending up to new heights.

Hill: More spending per average would you say than on individual candidates?

Brindle: I don’t think there’s any question about it. I’ve been predicting that we’re going to see between $80 million to $100 million that’s going to be spent by these independent groups. So, that far out distances anything that candidates have ever spent in any election in New Jersey.

Hill: Explain the math to us. The reason they’re going to spend that kind of money because it’s not just on the ballot for this, it’s because of what it means in the future.

Brindle: Oh yes, you know once again there’s a lot at stake with regard to the pension issue, at lot at stake with regard to teachers and other public workers as well as the pension fund in general. So both sides certainly have an interest in that. Economically with regard to the casino that’s a very significant issue and of course with regard to our infrastructure with the state, the Transportation Trust Fund is another issue that is very important to the people of New Jersey.

Hill: How much money do you anticipate to be spent on these issues?

Brindle: Like I said, I’m anticipating somewhere between $80 million to $100 million that’s going to be spent on these three ballot questions.

Hill: Do casinos have something to do with the uptake of this spending? The last time there was such a high increase of spending was in ’76 when a referendum for legalizing casinos was on the ballot.

Brindle: When you take into account inflation over all those years and the increased interest in the casino industry and so forth, yeah it’s going to have a lot to do with this increase in spending that we’re talking about. I have kind of basically estimated — I might be a little low — but about $40 million, something like that, being spent on the casino ballot question itself.

Hill: Most people are familiar with the Citizens United Ruling which paved the way for the creation of super PACs and unlimited campaign spending. How did the 2002 Campaign Reform Act influence independent spending?

Brindle: Well I’ve been saying for a long time that while Citizens United certainly facilitated the situation that we have nationally and in the state, the real catalysis for the broke growth and independent spending started with McCain-Feingold because what it did was it redirected money away from the political parties into these independent group because the act cut off soft money to political parties so that redirected the flow of money to these groups. Between 2002 and 2008, which was two years before Citizens United, there was over 1,000 percent growth in these independent groups. So McCain-Feingold certainly had a lot to do with what’s going on today.

Hill: From your perspective does this weaken the voice of the individual out there who wants to contribute? Sometimes an individual may think my vote really doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter. Does this weaken their voice or influence?

Brindle: Well I don’t know if it weakens an individual voter’s influence. But it certainly does discourage the voter. You might, as it’s been shown by recent polls that have been taken, trust in government has gone down. That’s nationally and all over the place and certainly the fact that we have so many of these anonymous groups that are involved in the process doesn’t help.

Hill: All right, Jeff Brindle, the executive director of the Election Law Commission. Thanks for joining us Mr. Brindle.

Brindle: Thank you for the opportunity.