Sunday, August 05, 2007

Elections - Ledger - $25M spent on 2007 Primaries, a record

Published in the Star-Ledger, Saturday, June 30, 2007

Primary candidates spent record $25 million in state

Star-Ledger Staff

Fueled by a nasty brawl among Hudson County Democrats and the scramble for a slew of open seats, primary election spending by candidates for the state Legislature soared to a record $25 million this spring, campaign finance reports revealed yesterday.

"This is the largest increase that we've ever had in terms of primary spending, and it is by far the most expensive primary," said Frederick Herrmann, executive director of the Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Democrats in the 33rd Legislative District alone spent nearly $2 million, a large sum even for a general election campaign. The biggest individual spender statewide was also in that district -- Assemblyman Brian Stack (D-Hudson), who sank nearly $1.3 million into a campaign that crushed Assemblyman Silverio "Sal" Vega (D-Hudson) for his party's state Senate nomination.

Stack received a last-minute $73,000 infusion from organizations tied to Camden County Democrats, stirring speculation that South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross already is trying to line up allies for post-election skirmishes over the leadership of the next Legislature.

Facing no substantial opposition in the general election, Stack is expected to enter the state Senate as a key free agent in the upper chamber, unaligned with the traditional Hudson County Democratic leadership. Should Democrats keep their 22-18 majority, Stack would be a sought-after vote as party members jockey for key positions, including Senate President, majority leader, and budget committee chairman.

Asked about the influx of donations from South Jersey donors, Stack spokesman Joe Lauro said only: "He's thankful they supported him." He said no one has asked Stack about whom he might support for Senate President "and he won't address it until he gets there."

Senate President Richard Codey, who has led the Senate's Democrats for a decade, said he plans to keep his post and does not expect a challenge. As for Stack's South Jersey support, Codey said, "Brian isn't going to be bought by anybody. I'm fine with Brian Stack. Who he takes money from is his business."

Former Republican Sen. John Bennett, who was co-president of the Senate with Codey in 2002-2003, said it's obvious to him the South Jersey Democrats are trying to establish an alliance with Stack that could jeopardize Codey's hold on the caucus. "There's no question there has been and continues to be an ongoing dispute between Dick Codey and George Norcross," said Bennett, who turned down an alliance with Norcross five years ago that would have spelled the end to Codey's leadership in Trenton.

One Norcross ally who donated to Stack, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), said there was no ulterior motive to the $8,200 he gave. "Brian had asked for some support and I'd known him for a while," said Greenwald, who credited Stack with helping establish ties between the formerly feuding Democrats of North and South Jersey. "He really helped tie the state together. My thought process was we needed to continue to build those relationships."

Norcross declined to comment yesterday.

Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University political science professor, said she believes Norcross is more likely to use his clout to secure the budget chairmanship or majority leader post, as opposed to challenging Codey for the presidency. "This is certainly a good alliance for him. But I don't think he wants to go head-to-head with Codey," she said

Spending by legislative candidates in this month's primary topped $1 million in five districts. Overall, winners outspent losers by a ten-to-one margin -- $23.2 million versus $2.2 million.

Herrmann said the total spending was 33 percent higher than four years ago, the last time all 120 seats were up for grabs. One factor was the fact that 17 lawmakers are retiring. "Open seats create more expensive races because they are more competitive," he said. He added that campaign expenses grow faster than the cost of living.

Heading into the fall campaigns, Democrats, who control both legislative houses, had twice the cash reserves of Republicans: $5.1 million versus $2.3 million. The challenger with the most cash was Bergen County attorney Joseph Ariyan, a Democrat who is running against Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) and reported $124,832 in the bank. First elected to the Senate in 1981, Cardinale reported a $242,639 reserve.

Ariyan is closely aligned with Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero and reported this week that he has now raised more than $200,000. "I continue to receive a genuine outpouring of support from people throughout the district," he said.

Cardinale said he's ready. "I never get a free ride. I have never taken an election for granted," he said."

Link to online story.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.