Special interest political action committees (PACs) in 2011 contributed more than $18 million to New Jersey campaigns, according to a new analysis by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
“It should come as no surprise that legislative leadership committees and individual legislators reaped the lion’s share - $12.1 million or 67 percent- of PAC contributions made in New Jersey last year,’’ said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director. “All 120 legislative seats were at stake in 2011. It was the state’s biggest election.”
County parties received another $1.8 million (10 percent) while state parties reaped $791,515 (4 percent). Both are active in legislative campaigns. The remainder- $3.3 million, or 18 percent, went to local candidates and committees other than county parties.
Brindle said PACs “largely are filling a void” caused by other campaign finance trends.
More than $33 million was raised solely in 2011 for the legislative election not counting transfers between legislative committees to minimize double-counting. The $12.1 million in PAC contributions represent 37 percent of that total.
“We believe state candidates and committees have become more dependent on PAC contributions in recent years for several reasons,’’ Brindle said. “For one thing, pay-to-play restrictions have greatly reduced contributions from public contractors.’
“Two wealthy gubernatorial candidates- Doug Forrester and Jon Corzine- who gave large sums to legislative candidates in the last decade no longer are contributing in New Jersey. Plus, the surge of political non-profit groups that operate independently may be drawing away funds that might have gone directly to legislative committees in the past.”
The $18 million is slightly more than half the estimated $34.3 million in PAC spending last year in New Jersey. The difference mostly represents contributions to federal or out-of-state campaigns, or to PAC affiliates.
For the first time, ELEC staff analyzed every registered PAC that reported spending during the year- 291 PACs in 2011. These PACs disclosed $33.3 million in combined spending, an increase of 18 percent from 2010.
Also in 2011, candidates and committees disclosed another $1 million from mostly out-of-state PACs that are not registered in New Jersey. Adding this $1 million to the registered PAC total pushed overall PAC spending to $34.3 million in 2011. Overall spending remained below the all-time high of $35.4 million in 2009, which includes spending only by registered PACs.
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