NorthJersey.com

Politicians Share The Wealth With Campaigns

NorthJersey.com — Thursday, August 12, 2004

By HERB JACKSON
TRENTON BUREAU

Part 5-A of 7 parts (links to all parts of this series in sidebar to right)

UNDER THE INFLUENCE: MONEY IN TRENTON

PART ONE:
Sunday, August 8, 2004

A record $56 million flowed to the winners in last year's legislative elections, much of it from interest groups trying to influence state policy. And the pressure to give keeps growing.

PART TWO:
Monday, August 9, 2004

Can't win in court? Get the law changed. That's a strategy that appears to be working for one millionaire who opened his checkbook to legislative candidates after losing a family dispute.

PART THREE:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Record found that three legislators took more in donations than they were legally allowed to receive from one businessman, but they gave the money back and under the law will likely face no punishment.

PART FOUR:
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Doctors ramped up their contributions last year as they battled to limit their exposure to big malpractice judgments in court. But lawyers also gave big, and won in the end.

PART FIVE (A) | PART FIVE (B):
Thursday, August 12, 2004

One of the most reliable sources of campaign cash for politicians is other politicians. Money from politicians is used to enforce party discipline or help ambitious candidates make new friends.

PART SIX:
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Who were the top 10 donors to each North Jersey legislator? And who gave the most to the Senate and Assembly Democratic and Republican PACs?

PART SEVEN:
Monday, August 16, 2004

Campaign finance reforms touted by legislative leaders this year will affect only a fraction of contributors, and even they may be able to keep giving money and getting contracts.


THE STAFF

  • Herb Jackson, 42, has covered New Jersey government and politics or directed coverage as an editor for 15 of the past 20 years. A Hudson County native and Rutgers University graduate, he has worked in the Trenton bureau of The Record since 1998. Since February 2002, he has taken readers behind the scenes in Trenton with his column, "Capital Games."
  • Benjamin Lesser, 28, has worked on computer-assisted projects since coming to The Record in November 2000 from The Times Union of Albany, N.Y. While attending the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he worked for the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting. He has also taught classes at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
  • Editors: Deirdre Sykes, Charles Stile
  • Copy editors: Mike Kozma, Nancy Cherry
  • Graphics editor: Jerry Luciani
  • Designer: Robert Townsend
  • Graphic artist: Bob Rebach
  • Photographer: Chris Pedota
  • Hoping to move up in politics someday?

    Well, if you're a candidate in New Jersey, you might want to make sure that you raise enough money to share it with people who will be in positions to help you.

    The third-largest category of campaign contributors to the Legislature in 2003, after real estate/construction interests and labor unions, was politicians and committees, a Record analysis shows.

    The contributors break down into three general categories: party committees that can take big donations and spread the wealth around to other candidates; politicians in safe districts or newcomers who want to curry favor in advance of their next step up the ladder; and ex-pols who are trying to keep their fingers on the pulse of power.

    Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who hasn't launched a campaign since leaving the State House 14 years ago, still has $370,000 in a political action committee. In the 2003 race he donated $2,500 of it – along with $6,600 from himself and his wife – to his namesake son, a state senator and potential gubernatorial contender next year.

    Former Sen. Robert G. Torricelli still has more than $2 million he raised for his aborted 2002 reelection campaign and has been spreading it around among candidates in New Jersey and beyond.

    Among his most controversial donations was $1,000 – which was returned – to Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio while Torricelli was battling a traffic ticket in that borough.

    Torricelli also gave $50,000 to Florida-based Americans for Jobs & Health Care, which ran campaign ads in Iowa and New Hampshire attacking Howard Dean, then the front-runner, during the Democratic presidential primaries; $2,500 to the Iranian American Political Action Committee in New York City; and $58,000 to an organization called Grassroots Democrats, whose address, ironically, is on lobbyists row: K Street in Washington.

    To the top state and county committees in the 2003 election, Torricelli gave $82,500, including $25,000 each to the Democratic State Committee and Senate Democratic Majority Committee and $15,000 to the New Democratic Assembly Leadership PAC.

    Though some party leaders had hoped Torricelli would turn his campaign kitty over to the party when he dropped out of the Senate race in September 2002, the chances of that happening ended when foe Frank Lautenberg was chosen as his successor. Federal law provided Torricelli with several options: He could refund unused donations, give the money to a party committee, or hold on to it to use for a future campaign or other political purposes, which is what he appears to be doing.

    Torricelli's 2002 year-end report shows he refunded about $291,000 in contributions, out of $9.9 million raised from 1997 through 2002.

    Political powerhouses

    Torricelli's and Kean's contributions, however, pale by comparison to the powerhouses of politician-to-politician financing – the legislative leadership and state and county party committees – which can legally accept 10 to 15 times as much as candidates themselves.

    A 1993 state law bars legislative candidates from accepting more than $2,200 per election from an individual and $7,200 from most PACs. But that same law – passed by many of the people who are still in power today – set up special rules for PACs controlled by legislative leaders and state committees, which could accept up to $25,000, and county committees, which could accept up to $37,000.

    These committees were also allowed to give unlimited amounts to individual candidates, boosting the power of legislative leaders and party bosses tremendously.

    The New Democratic Assembly Leadership PAC, controlled by Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, led the pack by giving victorious 2003 candidates and the committees that supported them more than $3.3 million. That included $2.8 million to individual candidates and joint candidate committees, $432,000 to county committees, and $73,000 to state committees.

    The Senate's leadership committee and the state committee, which is effectively controlled by Governor McGreevey, each doled out $2.8 million.

    In addition to helping win elections, the ability of state and county leaders to control such huge sums is critical to party discipline, since those who toe the line know they'll be helped come election time while those who stray might be frozen out.

    Some county organizations, such as Bergen's Democrats, have largely centralized fund raising for local and legislative candidates, giving party leaders even more power. Bergen Democrats doled out $417,000 to winning legislative candidates and joint committees.

    And in a sign of how money wheels around the state, the county committee gave $232,000 to the Democratic State Committee, $100,000 to the Assembly Democrats, and $60,000 to the Senate Democrats – while also receiving $598,000 from those three groups.

    An open checkbook

    Bestowing donations on legislative candidates and county leaders who often determine who gets the "party line" on primary ballots also has been a proven technique for people looking to break onto the political scene or move up the ladder.

    In 1999, a largely unknown investment banker named Jon Corzine opened his checkbook to county committees and legislative candidates, helping him capture several county endorsements in his 2000 U.S. Senate Democratic primary battle against former Gov. Jim Florio.

    Corzine has continued to help state candidates since going to Washington. In the 2003 elections he donated $50,000 to the Assembly Democrats, $25,000 each to the Senate Democrats and state committee, and $37,000 each to the Bergen, Camden, and Gloucester County party committees.

    "His track record in supporting the party has been pretty clear for a while," said Corzine spokesman David Wald. "He thinks it makes a difference if Democrats control the Legislature, just as he's working really hard on the federal level to get a Democratic Senate.

    "He really believes elections determine policy," Wald said.

    Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives who may have higher aspirations in state politics were also among the top donors in the 2003 races: Rep. Robert Menendez of Hoboken spread around $106,400, while Rep. Steve Rothman of Fair Lawn donated $58,750, including $42,000 to the Bergen County Democrats.

    And congressmen are not the only politicians in safe districts helping out fellow candidates. Senate President Richard Codey's individual campaign committee gave 10 other candidates and committees a combined $177,000, including $37,000 each to the Camden and Gloucester County party organizations, where Democrats faced tough races.

    Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, is said to be maneuvering for a possible run for governor in 2009, and he showed it's never too early to start making friends in other parts of the state. Greenwald, who is chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, doled out $258,000 to 16 different recipients, including $12,800 to Assemblyman Peter Eagler, D-Clifton.

    Greenwald also gave $7,200 each to candidates Joan Voss of Fort Lee and Robert Gordon of Fair Lawn, who won open seats in Bergen County's 38th District.

    Leading the pack on the Republican side was Douglas Forrester, the pharmacy benefits management executive who was leading Torricelli in the 2002 Senate race but ultimately lost to Lautenberg. Forrester, a potential candidate for governor next year, gave $143,270 to party candidates and committees, including $50,000 to the Assembly Republicans' PAC.

    Other potential Republican contenders and their donations were Bergen County businessman Robert Schroeder, $53,400; investment banker Lewis Eisenberg, $33,450; and Morris County Freeholder John Murphy, $25,425.

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