If you wonder why Trenton acts so strangely, you can start with a look at our state ‘s Constitution and election law. Much of what happens in the statehouse is easily explained by where election money comes from and where it goes.
New Jersey: Strong Governor, Weak Legislature
The New Jersey Constitution empowers a strong governor, who has responsibility to write the budget and manage it. The legislature has only the responsibility to consent to the governor ‘s suggestions, or not. The governor has strong veto power, including line-item appropriations. Consequently, the legislature is weak.
The New Jersey structure is very much unlike the U.S. federal system, where the power of the purse is held by the House of Representatives. The president, acting through the Executive Branch, has much less influence on federal policy than the NJ governor on state policy. It is true that the president can order his or her departments to go slow on certain initiatives, but the Congress still controls the purse-strings. The president is also head of the party, which provides more strength in time when his party controls the House or Senate or both. The same is true in New Jersey.
More detail on this topic can be found in the Book of the States, updated every year. Articles by Thad Beyle since the 1980s are particularly instructive.
Voters and interest groups that want to influence the direction of the state find their energies best used in work to elect a governor of their choice. How do interest groups exert influence on Trenton? The most important way is by letting their money do the talking.
NJ Contribution Limits to Candidates for Legislature
Individuals may contribute up to $2,600 to each campaign for state Senate and Assembly. Primary and general elections each count as campaign. In an election year, then, an individual may contribute twice ‘– $5,200 ‘– to a candidate. This is not some theoretical limit. Many contributors donate the maximum. In 2013, the average individual contribution to a NJ state senatorial campaign was $700.
Campaign contributions are made with after-tax money. Campaign contributions are not tax deductible by individual or corporations. That makes $700 a hefty amount in a state where taxes are high. One needs to ask oneself if donations of that size are made in the interest of stimulating the vote or whether the contributor expects a return on that investment. An economist would assume that the voter is rational, that an individual sees more than $700 in potential rewards if his chosen party wins the election.
A candidate for legislature may roll unused funds from the primary campaign to the general campaign. After winning the general election, a legislator may use campaign funds to pay the expenses of holding office. Those expenses may include the cost of travel to Trenton, staff salaries, and travel elsewhere. It may surprise voters to understand that campaign contributions can be used for so many purposes.
NJ Contribution Limits to Candidates for Governor
A candidate for governor has two choices in managing campaign funds. The candidate can choose to raise funds privately, in which case there is no limit to the total amount raised and spent. The candidate may participate in a state-sponsored matching funds program, in which the state matches every dollar raised by the candidate with two from the state, but with a $13 million dollar limit. In either case, an individual is limited to a $4,300 contribution per election. The candidate himself may contribute an unlimited amount.
Gubernatorial matching funds campaign
New Jersey taxpayers are asked to contribute a dollar each year to the gubernatorial campaign fund. Candidates who are willing to accept overall spending limits, engage in public debates, and certain other restrictions are eligible for matching funds. After a candidate raises $430,000, he is eligible for $584,000 in state matching funds. After that, private donations are matched 2-for-1 up to a limit of $4 million in the primary and $9.3 million in the general.
In 2013, Chris Christie took matching funds, limiting the total spent on the campaign. At the height of his popularity, he won. In 2017, challenger Phil Murphy is choosing instead to raise his campaign money privately. No limits apply. He has already lent his campaign ten million a year before the election. His campaign will likely cost far above the matching-funds limit.
Gubernatorial No Limit Campaign
A candidate for governor may contribute or loan any amount to his or her campaign. A candidate for governor may solicit $4,300 from an individual once for the primary and once for the general.
Who is Prohibited from Contributing?
The following organizations are prohibited from contributing to a New Jersey campaign, although in certain instances, their employees are eligible to form a political action committee which may contribute.
- Casino owners and employees
- Foreign Nationals
- Insurance Companies
- Cable Companies
- Public Utilities
- Companies that do more than $17,500 in business with the state
New Jersey requires that donations are accompanied by a record of the contributor, address, and employer. Whether these records are ever reviewed is a matter of speculation. Whether they are U.S. citizens is not a required record. In a three month period a year before the election, Murphy raised $35,000 in the UK. One might ask what interest these people have in a New Jersey governor ‘s race.
- Laura Knowles-Cutler, 1 Farley Common, Kent, UK $3,800 (insufficient address)
- Pamela Stanger, 42 Palace Gardens Terrace, London, United Kingdom $3,800
- Scott Mead, 7 Lansdowne Cresent, London, UK $3,800
- Lindsay Hayden, 17 Kensington Park Gardens, London UK $3,800
- Timothy Prager, 55 Perrymead St, London, UK $3,800
- Drew Salvest, 38 Lonsdale Rd, London, UK $500
- James Sheridan, 7 Sumner Place, London UK $3,800
- Ruth Rogers, 45 Roayal Avenue, London UK $3,800
- Nader Mousavizadeh, 59 Talbot Rd, London UK $3,800
- (Lady) Alison Deighton, 32 Cadogan Sq, London UK $3,800
Who does spend on NJ Elections?
Unions, which do not directly contract with the state, but have a direct interest in state business, are the largest contributors to state elections.
How Much Will be Spent on the 1017 Elections?
The election of 2013 was peculiar. Both candidates for governor accepted state matching funds, severely limiting spending. Spending on legislative races was much more active, $72 million.
Next year ‘s governor ‘s race is likely to be like 2005, when a wealthy John Corzine ran against a wealthy Doug Forrester. That race saw $90 million spent.
Murphy has invested $10 million already in his gubernatorial campaign, a year before the primaries. One can understand personal spending; it ‘s a function of vanity. What drives special interests is even more interesting. In 2013 the NJ Education Association spent $14 million to support Barbara Buono and other Democratic candidates.
There are only two major elections in the U.S. in 2017, the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. It ‘s not unlikely that a year after the election of Donald Trump, these elections will attract attention and support from outside the state. There is no reason to believe that the governor ‘s race will not exceed $100 million, with the legislative races not far behind.
Does it matter if you break NJ Elections law?
The NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission promises that it will begin an investigation of an allegation of a campaign law violation within “approximately ninety days of receipt.” A violation at the primary, then, may not have an investigation opened until four weeks before the general election. This sleepy approach to investigation seems to indicate a small commitment to enforcement.