PACs pour $5.4 million into NJ Assembly races

 Big spending by independent groups changes the dynamic of election campaigns, says Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Big spending by independent groups changes the dynamic of election campaigns, says Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey Assembly candidates have spent $12 million campaigning for next month’s election with  45 percent of that money coming from independent political action committees.

Big spending by independent groups changes the dynamic of election campaigns, said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

“The public really has a right to be able to know who are contributing to these groups and how much they’re spending, and I think that it is really harmful to the election process that these groups are not required to disclose,” he said.

Brindle has been calling for more than three years for legislation that would require those groups to disclose their contributors and expenditures.

“I’m always hopeful that after the election and in the lame-duck session that something will be done,” he said.

But Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley doesn’t believe it will happen.

“It’s very unlikely that this kind of influence will be curbed anytime soon because the people who benefit from it are actually sitting in the Legislature,” Woolley said.

Spending by those special interest groups has overtaken the ability of legislative leaders to spread money around to support individual candidates, he continued.

“To the extent that candidates and members can move special interest money around and don’t have to rely on the speaker or the president, it weakens the leadership of both the Senate and the Assembly,” Woolley said.

General Majority PAC, largely financed by unions, has spent more than $2 million on the general election, most of it on races in the 1st and 2nd Districts in South Jersey and District 38 in North Jersey.

But all that investment won’t have much impact on the Democratic-Republican balance in the Legislature, Woolley predicted.

“It’s related to, can you have access to the legislator when a vote comes up on your issue. So what special interests are really doing is not necessarily buying votes, but they’re certainly buying access to the legislator and they’re buying an obligation,” he said.

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