Total spending in the New Jersey gubernatorial race surged to nearly $46 million—almost double the money shelled out during the last governor’s race four years ago.
Most of that comes from independent groups not officially affiliated with either candidate – Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy or Republican former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli – according to a report by state election watchdog, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
For comparison, when then-candidate Murphy and former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, ran against each other in 2017, they spent a total of $23.8 million, according to a report from that year by NJELEC.
Election night is only a week away, and Ciattarelli now trails Murphy by just six points, according to a recent Emerson College/Pix11 poll. For comparison, an August poll from Monmouth University showed him with a 16-point lead over Ciattarelli.
In recent weeks Murphy has gotten visits and endorsements from several high-profile Democrats, including President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama.
“With just two governor seats in play this year here and in Virginia, and the seeming tightening of polls in New Jersey, both parties seem to be viewing this as a high stakes race,’’ Jeff Brindle, NJELEC’s executive director, said in the Oct. 25 release.
So far this year, the Murphy campaign has raised $16 million and spent $12.5 million, with a remaining $3.5 million in reserves. Ciattarelli has raised $13.1 million and spent $12.4 million, with $685,259 on hand.
“Ciattarelli has received more than three times as much public funds as the Republican candidate in 2017 and nearly five times more than the Democratic contender in 2013,’’ Brindle continued.
“He has raised more public funds than even Chris Christie in 2009, who defeated incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine,” he added.
And the two candidates are taking close to full advantage of the public financing program, with Murphy having maxed out and gotten the entire $10.5 million available and Ciattarelli receiving $9.1 million to date, or 87% of what’s available for him.
Nearly half the spending so far in this election – $21 million – has come from independent and outside groups.
Murphy got nearly $5.6 million from Our NJ, a group backed by several unions and the Democratic Governors Association, which also spent $1.3 million for Murphy.
Garden State Forward, which is funded by the state’s largest teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association, has so far spent $5 million. Meanwhile the Republican Governors Association has spent more than $2.1 million on Ciattarelli.
“Independent spending committees, which barely existed 15 years ago, now play a major role in state elections,” Brindle added. “A significant share of spending in each statewide election now comes from these groups.”