According to NJ ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle, “Even in the down years, the business of lobbying remains a major enterprise in the Garden State.” And in 2021, that enterprise saw $93.7 million in total spending.
The figure, released by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission on March 10, does represent a 12.2% drop over spending from the year prior, Brindle said, but it still ranks as the third-highest ever recorded in the state. And, with the figure being preliminary, along with all figures released in the annual report, 2021 spending is likely to be even higher.
Nearly 11% of all lobbying spending in 2021 came from the top 10-ranked spenders, for a combined $10.3 million, with Public Service Enterprise Group leading the pack at $2.7 million.
Making its first appearance in the top 10, ever according to NJ ELEC, was the Fuel Merchants Association of NJ, which spent $1.4 million in 2021 — a 979% increase — to rank at No. 3 on the list in its attempt to combat a proposal in the state’s Energy Master Plan to require homeowners to switch to all-electric heating and hot water systems.
While spending dipped year over year, ELEC noted that the number of lobbyists stayed consistent: recording 920 in 2020 and falling by just four to 916 in 2021. The load of clients those lobbyists are deal with, however, went up by 11%, ELEC said, to 2,283 in 2021.
Nearly $66.2 million in receipts was reported from 82 lobbying firms in 2021, with nearly 64% — or $42.3 million — going to the top 10 multi-client firms, ELEC said. At the top of that list: Princeton Public Affairs Group Inc., whose receipts totaled almost $10.5 million.
Last year’s spending had a lot to contend with compared to 2020, which ELEC said was unusually high due, among other things, to the onset of COVID-19 and ensuing legislation and regulations, as a result. The organization highlighted an 85% decrease in cumulative spending across four groups for its impact on comparisons to 2021.
In 2020, both the state’s teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association — which was 2020’s biggest spender, and its largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ, amped up their spending; the latter also financed a separate entity that year called Move Health Care Forward NJ Inc. in its successful bid to enact legislation to restructure itself as a nonprofit holding company. Rounding out the foursome, New Direction NJ Corp. — a nonprofit group operated by supporters of Gov. Phil Murphy — launched a heavy media campaign ahead of the governor’s re-election campaign (NJ ELEC reported more than $4.9 million in spending that year for New Direction), but spent no money on lobbying in 2021.
Removing those groups from the spending totals, NJ ELEC said cumulative spending for all other groups actually saw a 3.2% increase from $88 million in 2020 to $91 million in 2021.
Even with its reduced spending, Horizon BCBSNJ still ranked second for spending in 2021, at $1.9 million.
Another boon to 2020’s lobbying expenditures, according to NJ ELEC, was a record $18.1 million in spending on communications, including television and digital advertising. In 2021, that took a hit with spending dropping 62% to $6.9 million. PSE&G again led the pack, coming in at No. 1 for communications expenditures.
Together with the Fuel Merchants Association of NJ, Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative and Move Health Care Forward NJ, the top four communications spenders spent $5.6 million — or 80% of total spending.
What kinds of businesses are doing the most lobbying? According to NJ ELEC, health care (miscellaneous) led the pack, followed by energy, insurance, finance, health care (hospitals), transportation, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, real estate and cannabis for a total $32.5 million paid to lobbying firms from those top 10 sectors. Comparatively, fees paid to governmental affairs agents were about half that, NJ ELEC said.
Hitting a new low, “benefit passing” — gifts including meals, trips and the like — dispensed by lobbyists fell to a record $1,367 in 2021, NJ ELEC reported.
NJ ELEC began analyzing annual lobbying reports in 2010. The organization is responsible for monitoring campaign finances for all state elections, and administers the law requiring gubernatorial and legislative candidates to make their personal finances public. It also carries out sections of law establishing filing obligations for lobbyists and their clients, and has purview to enforce aspects of the Pay-to-Play law.