Murphy receives first batch of public financing in N.J. general election

 Democratic nominee for governor Phil Murphy makes a point during a debate at Stockton University in New Jersey. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Democratic nominee for governor Phil Murphy makes a point during a debate at Stockton University in New Jersey. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Democratic nominee in the New Jersey gubernatorial race has received $1.2 million in matching funds from the state, kicking off a contest that is expected to cost millions more in the coming months.

The state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) cut the check to former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy last week, as part of a program to match political contributions to a gubernatorial campaigns with state money.

Founded in 1977, the gubernatorial public financing program aims to give a monetary boost to candidates and minimize the influence of special interests in a given race. The program is funded by residents who opt to contribute $1 to the fund on their state income tax return.

“The purpose is to allow candidates of limited means to run effective campaigns for governor, as well as to eliminate any undue influence from the process,” said Jeff Brindle, executive director of ELEC. “Those are the twin goals.”

Gubernatorial candidates qualify for the optional matching program once they raise $430,000 in general election contributions. The state then supplies $2 for every dollar raised, up to a maximum of $9.3 million.

Candidates taking part in the program are limited to spending a total of $13.8 million in the race.

Although several of his Democratic opponents received public matching funds in the primary election, Murphy spent tens of millions of his own dollars in the race. But Murphy is electing to participate in the program for the head-to-head general election.

“Voters could perceive him as kind of less affluent, less as trying to buy the election,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. “And obviously, from a personal standpoint, it will mean that he will have to contribute less from his own personal coffers.”

He can only contribute $25,000 of his own money toward matching funds.

Murphy’s Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, has raised enough to qualify for general election financing but has not yet requested it from ELEC. Guadagno received matching funds during the primary.

In 2013 Gov. Chris Christie received $8.2 million in public matching funds, while his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono got $3.6 million.

Another requirement for taking part in the program is that general election candidates must participate in at least two public debates.

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