Last week the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission announced “[a]n unprecedented explosion of independent special interest spending pushed the cost of the 2013 state elections to an all-time high . . .” Although final numbers won’t be available until January, reports filed with ELEC indicate that spending on New Jersey’s 2013 elections reached a record $129 million. Special interest groups are responsible for spending nearly $41 million independent of parties and candidates on state campaigns during the recent election cycle. This constitutes approximately 32% of the total amount of money spent statewide (compared to .3% in the 2005 and 15% in 2009). Thus, the numbers have doubled since New Jersey’s last gubernatorial election.
This year marks the first election in which the governor’s office and all 120 seats of the legislature were up for grabs since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. Some argue that decision spurred this dramatic growth in independent spending, although it is worth noting that, unlike federal law prior to Citizens United, New Jersey campaign finance law did not restrict independent spending by corporations.
Yet it is apparent that Citizens United marks at least a psychological sea change that has driven up spending by independent entities and dramatically changed election dynamics in the Garden State.