NorthJersey.com

Highs And Lows Of Political Fund Raising

NorthJersey.com — Monday, August 16, 2004

By HERB JACKSON and BENJAMIN LESSER
STAFF WRITERS

Last of 7 parts

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
  • Fund raising by North Jersey candidates for the state Legislature last year was a tale of extremes: They won some of the most expensive seats in the 2003 election, and some of the cheapest.

    The winning candidates in two highly competitive districts raised nearly $4.8 million combined, the third- and fourth-largest totals among the 40 legislative districts statewide.

    In those districts - the 38th in Bergen County and the 36th, covering parts of Bergen, Passaic, and Essex counties - Democrats took both Senate seats and three of four Assembly seats. The victories dashed Republicans' hopes of gaining control of the Senate and expanded the Democrats' majority in the Assembly.

    Both major parties poured money into those races, and the top donors there closely mirrored the top donors to legislative campaigns statewide. As a rule, party committees and labor unions led the pack.

    At the other end of the fund-raising spectrum were a host of so-called "safe" districts where incumbents from the dominant party – Democrats in the 32nd, 34th, 35th, and 37th, Republicans in the 26th, 39th, and 40th – raised far more modest amounts.

    For example, state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, raised nearly $1.7 million to hold on to his 36th District seat in 2003, while 37th District Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood, took in $44,000. That works out to $92.14 per vote for Sarlo, and $1.95 per vote for Johnson.

    Sarlo got $5,000 from the trial lawyers' lobby, while Johnson got $500. The state's largest teachers union gave Sarlo $6,800 and Johnson $1,700. Sarlo got $13,800 from construction and recycling companies controlled by Joseph Sanzari, Sarlo's employer. Johnson got $500.

    The same kinds of contrasts hold true with Republicans. While 36th District Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano of Nutley raised $805,098, 39th District Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk of Montvale collected $46,093. That's $46.96 per vote for DiGaetano, $1.45 per vote for Vandervalk.

    Vandervalk's biggest donor was the New Jersey Medical Society's political action committee, which gave $3,000. The doctors gave DiGaetano $14,050, but that only ranked them second among his top donors.

    Across the nine districts in The Record's circulation area, the New Jersey Education Association ranked among the top 10 donors to 14 of the region's 27 legislators, giving $54,878. Laborers unions, the top donor overall to winners in the 2003 campaign, were among the leading donors to 13 legislators in the region, with $101,500 in contributions. Three groups - the Coalition of Auto Retailers, the state Realtors Association, and police unions around the state - ranked among the top donors to 10 local legislators.

    Party committees dominated the donor list in races where the most money was raised.

    For example, Sarlo collected more than $1 million from just four party sources – the Senate Democratic Majority Committee, Democratic State Committee, New Democratic Assembly Leadership PAC, and Bergen County Democratic Organization; that total combines his individual fund raising with his share of receipts from a committee he ran with his Assembly running mates.

    For many legislators from "safe" districts, the biggest threat is not the general election in November but the June primary, when they have to win their party's nomination to run in the fall.

    In two North Jersey districts, otherwise safe senators had to ramp up their fund raising to fend off primary challenges. Otherwise, party leaders say, it was not likely that Sen. Nia Gill, D-Montclair, or Sen. Robert Martin, R-Morris Plains, would have had to work as hard at fund raising. Gill raised $476,000 to retain her seat in the 34th District, which covers parts of Essex and Passaic counties. Martin took in $388,000 to win reelection in the 26th, which covers parts of Morris and Passaic counties.

    "Bob Martin raised almost $400,000, but he probably otherwise would have had $38,000," said Bill Palatucci, finance chairman for the Republican State Committee. Palatucci was still angry that Martin had to spend so much to hold on to his seat, because the intra-party battle used up money that could have been spent trying to oust Democrats in November.

    "It was a complete waste of resources in a fight that was very counterproductive," Palatucci said.

    "Safe" legislators also have to worry about a challenger with significant personal wealth emerging from the other party. Longtime state Sen. Byron Baer, facing a spirited challenge from businessman Barry Honig, raised nearly $400,000. More than 40 percent of that total came from the Senate Democratic Majority Committee, the Bergen County Democratic Organization, and Baer himself.

    "Every incumbent with half a brain is employing their own incumbent protection plan," Palatucci said. "They should be staying close with their constituents and raising money. If an incumbent comes in and has a conversation with me, the first question I'm going to have is, 'How much money do you have in the bank?'"

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