According to year-end reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, New Jersey’s “Big Six” political fundraising committees started 2023 with large cash reserves although few legislative elections are expected to be competitive this year.
“Money isn’t everything. But having more money means you can afford more on media buys, direct mail, get-out-the-vote, and other campaign purposes,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle.
All state Senate and Assembly seats are up this year, but democracy remains in peril in the state largely due to gerrymandering and a lack of organization among the citizenry.
In a major blow to the democratic principle that lawmakers are accountable to voters who can remove them from office, the vast majority of legislative seats are non-competitive–a trend that critics say threatens to exacerbate GOP extremism as incumbents in solidly Republican districts shift further right to fend off more reactionary primary challengers.
The truth that the state’s political elite are currently well insulated from public disapproval is an uncomfortable one, but bosses and power brokers in both parties have reasons for keeping it that way.
Voters have the power to change things but with incumbents holding large financial advantages and few opposition figures, insiders often get away with ignoring the public and citizens are too busy struggling with the economic impact of being ignored by their political representatives.
The two parties combined have $2.8 million stockpiled, the most in a decade and 107% above average, according to ELEC.
Insurgents sometimes surface among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and a few GOP primary skirmishes occur but the general election outcome is preordained in most districts.
The ample funding available to incumbents is the result of an institutionalized version of legal bribery known as ‘pay to play’ that also hinders the opportunity of outsiders to compete against the political establishment.
Democrats, who have held the legislative majority since 2001, have $2.2 million in the bank, while Republicans have about $625,000, the reports showed. The GOP has made strides in the past two legislative elections, picking up two seats in the Senate and eight in the Assembly.
That includes Republicans flipping the 1st Legislative District that covers Cape May County and parts of Cumberland and parts of Atlantic counties in 2019, and the 2nd District that covers the heart of Atlantic County in 2021.
Democrats now hold a 24-16 margin in the Senate and a 46-34 margin in the Assembly.
The “Big Six” includes each state political party and their two legislative leadership committees.
The three Democratic committees jointly reported $2.2 million in the bank, which is the highest in a decade and 175% above the party average, the reports showed. Democrats have controlled the Legislature since 2001.
Republican committees reported $624,898 in the bank, which is 11% above average and the highest since 2016, ELEC said.
“Naturally, the majority wants to retain control while the minority wants to win it back,” Brindle said. “Both parties this year have an incentive to stash away as much cash as possible.”
State parties and legislative leadership committees are required to file quarterly reports on their financial activity. The reports are available at elec.state.nj.us.