by Nikita Biryukov, New Jersey Monitor
Outside spending has poured more than $15 million into New Jersey congressional races with a week remaining until Election Day, and Democratic and Republican groups are splitting roughly equal parts of the bill.
Nearly half of the outside spending in the state has been poured into the 7th Congressional District, seen as the GOP’s best chance of flipping one of the state’s ten Democratic-held seats. Rep. Tom Malinowski is facing a repeat challenge in the 7th from former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., a three-time loser in federal races.
Most of the outside spending has aided Kean. PACs, social welfare nonprofits, and other groups have reported spending nearly $7.2 million in the 7th District. Of that, roughly $5.7 million has been spent in Kean’s benefit.
As Republicans nationwide fight to regain control of Congress after next week’s elections, they see districts like New Jersey’s 7th as key to their effort.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the independent expenditure arm of House Republicans, has led spending in the district, pouring nearly $4.5 million into the contest.
Much of that money has gone to television ads that have hammered Malinowski for his voting record and his failure to report stock trades in line with a congressional deadline.
The Republicans have repeatedly claimed that Malinowski supported tax increases because he is cosponsor of legislation that would make people earning over $400,000 pay the same FICA contributions as everyone else in order to guarantee Social Security’s solvency.
Malinowski’s legislation would increase benefits to retirees and address the depletion of the Social Security Trust Fund, which is likely to run out of money in less than 12 years without action by Congress.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz has put over $25 million of his own money into his Senate campaign, making the Republican New Jersey resident the top self-funding candidate for federal office in the entire country in 2022.
The National Republican Congressional Committee added about $1 million to that pot, and Defend Us PAC added $142,394. Two nonpartisan groups, the Firefighters Support Association PAC and the National Association of Realtors PAC, put a combined $62,970 behind Kean.
Given the history, the voluminous investment from Republican groups is hardly a surprise, said Ashley Koning, director of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.
“Kean was down by a point two years ago, so this is a race where Republicans probably think they have a real chance, especially in today’s political climate,” she said. “Especially with some of the stories in terms of stock trades that have come out about Malinowski.”
Malinowski, who saw himself drawn into a more Republican congressional district last year, has faced broad criticism after failing to disclose stock trades in line with congressional deadlines, a failure that has fueled attacks charging corruption. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing and has since placed his assets into a blind trust.
Though Malinowski had more groups backing him and opposing his opponent than any other candidate in the state, outside spending on the incumbent’s behalf was a fraction of that supporting Kean.
The seven groups supporting the Democrat put just under $1.5 million into the race. Most of that money ($965,434) came from the House Majority PAC, the independent spending arm of House Democratic leadership.
The Moderate Party Independent Fund, a super PAC funded by the House Majority PAC, has put in $245,215 and could spend up to $500,000. Malinowski has touted his support from the nascent Moderate Party as proof of his ability to win bipartisan support, though the party’s donation from the House Majority PAC has earned sneers from Republicans.
Labor unions have shown some support to the incumbent. The 1199 SEIU Federal Political Action Fund has spent $120,939 on the race, and the 32BJ American Dream Fund, $14,793.
The figures presented in this article were drawn from an analysis of raw and processed Federal Election Commission filings available for public review on Monday, Oct. 31, and do not include spending reported after that date.
Independent spending is almost entirely one-sided in the 11th District, where two-term Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill has seen her campaign buoyed by $3.2 million in outside money.
VoteVets.org, a pro-veteran group that often aligns with Democrats, has put more than $2.3 million behind Sherrill’s campaign, the second-largest investment in a single New Jersey district. Sherrill is a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.
The Shield PAC, an independent spending group boosting moderate Democrats, has spent $458,215 supporting the incumbent, and another pro-moderate group, the Center Forward Committee, put $50,000 toward the same purpose.
The With Honor Fund, a nonpartisan group supporting military veterans for elected office, has put $348,018 behind Sherrill.
Big-dollar groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund have steered well clear of the 5th and other New Jersey congressional districts, limiting their New Jersey spending to the 7th district alone. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat, is seeking reelection to the 5th District against Republican Frank Pallotta.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to not see as many GOP dollars going into these other districts,” Koning said. “They know that they are not districts that should be invested in because they’re likely not winnable.”
Independent spending groups have all but ignored Sherrill’s Republican challenger, Paul DeGroot. The Republican State Committee, which has put between $15,120 and $30,240 in outside money into the 11th district, is the only source of GOP outside money there.
The Republican State Committee’s total investment into the 11th district and others around the state is unclear because of apparent errors in their filings to the Federal Election Commission.
The story is similar in the 5th District, where New Jersey’s best-funded incumbent is getting an outside boost.
Independent spending groups have put close to $2.6 million behind Gottheimer’s quest for a third term. Nearly $2 million of that comes from the House Majority PAC.
That investment — one made in a candidate whose $13.7 million in reserves make him among the nation’s best-funded congresspeople — was issued at the behest of billionaire former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, Politico reported.
“I think the strategy here is to make those districts that are likely winnable even more winnable because we know if places like the 11th and the 3rd are lost for Democrats, it’s going to be a pretty terrible night for them,” Koning said.
Gottheimer has received more measured support from Center Forward, which put $445,000 behind his bid.
By comparison, independent spending behind Pallotta — who lost a bid challenging Gottheimer in 2020 — is less than a trickle. Outside groups have put just $58,260 behind Pallotta, a former investment banker, and all of that money comes from LV Strong, a PAC operated by Republican political and public affairs firm the Eagle Consulting Group.
Republican challenger Bob Healey Jr. isn’t facing the outside-spending deficit snarling DeGroot and Pallotta.
Healey, a former punk rock frontman who is now the millionaire co-chairman of the Viking Yacht Group and related firms, has seen roughly $1.9 million in outside money put behind his back, all of it from Garden State Advance, a super PAC funded largely by a $2 million donation from his mother.
Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, by comparison, has seen a meager $172,562 in outside money put behind his campaign. Of that, $52,447 came from the House Majority PAC. It is by far the smallest investment the group has made in a New Jersey congressional district this year.
Two environmental groups, Climate Power Action and the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund, put a combined $109,341 behind Kim’s bid, and the Working Families Party National PAC put up $8,000.