New Jersey gubernatorial campaigning in 2017 cost $79 million

 Republican Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy, as well as independent groups and primary opponents, spent a total of $79 million on the New Jersey gubernatorial campaigns. Murphy went on to win the November election. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Republican Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy, as well as independent groups and primary opponents, spent a total of $79 million on the New Jersey gubernatorial campaigns. Murphy went on to win the November election. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This year’s New Jersey gubernatorial election was the second most costly in state history.

The $79.1 million spent on June’s primary and November’s general election was exceeded only by the $88.1 million 2005 race when Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester spent a lot of their own money on their campaigns.

New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission executive director Jeff Brindle said heavy spending this year was inevitable.

“Gov. Christie was not running for re-election. And we had New Jersey and Virginia as the only two states where there was a race for governor,” Brindle said. “So, I think those factors contributed to the increase in funding this year.”

Candidates Phil Murphy, the winning Democrat, and Republican Kim Guadagno — as well as their primary opponents — spent $54.6 million, while independent groups spent a record $24.5 million, Brindle said.

“To have that kind of influence — when a lot of that is anonymous and not disclosed in terms of contributors and their spending — and to have that kind of influence over the outcome of the election, is really not good for the process,” he said.

Some of the independent groups voluntarily disclosed contributions and expenditures, but Brindle said he plans to meet with legislative leaders to push for better transparency on the source of those funds.

“And I’m always cautiously optimistic that, based on the experience of this election, there will be renewed interest in moving some of this legislation forward and finally enacting it,” he said.

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