By: Joe Castor

Which special interests have the most clout in New Jersey? On September 10th, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission released a study of the amount of money in New Jersey elections controlled by special interests. The report found that from 1999-2013 special interests poured in over $311 million. Special interests from unions to large business interests all take part in the massive election spending spree in New Jersey. This money is calculated from spending on campaign contributions, lobbying, and independent spending on campaigns.

The lion’s share of this money is controlled by the New Jersey Education Association, New Jersey’s largest teachers union. Their total spending exceeded $57 million, which nearly doubles the spending of the next highest contributor. Long known to be one of the strongest interest groups in the state, it is now clear just how powerful the union is in the halls of Trenton. The NJEA has been fighting a very public battle with Governor Chris Christie over the direction of the state’s education policies and spending. When questioned about the massive amount of money that the union is spending on political influence, the NJEA’s director of government relations, Ginger Gold Schnitzer stated, “These lawmakers make really important decision for us. So if our members want to have any influence over these aspects of their personal and professional lives, they have to care a great deal about who holds these positions, and we have to get them information to make good decisions.” The NJEA represents 195,501 teachers and other education employees in the state.

The other largest contributors are also primarily union or business interests. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, NJ State Laborers, the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, and the NJ Association of Realtors made up the remaining top five spenders. These groups, like the NJEA, rely heavily on the government not only for employment, but to create positive business environments for their members.

Perhaps the most surprising feature of this data is the amount money spent by ideological groups. In a political climate filled with allegations of shadowy figures dominating politics with spending, ideological groups spent approximately one fifth of what union groups spent and were only two of the groups in the top twenty five spenders. These groups were AARP and a conservative PAC named Committee for Our Children’s Future. The Committee spent $7.8 million in independent expenditures primarily focusing on campaign advertisements. AARP has taken the exact opposite approach, focusing all of its nearly $9 million on lobbying efforts, eschewing the campaigns altogether.

These special interests have a great deal of influence on New Jersey politics, yet it remains a hotly contested state for both parties. The results of the midterm elections returned Corey Booker to the Senate for the Democrats, and the state split its representatives for the House: six Republicans and six Democrats. While concerns of special interests and the big money they bring are certainly warranted, it seems for now that New Jersey voters remain unconvinced.

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