It was a relatively sleepy year for campaign spending in New Jersey.
Political campaigns and outside money groups spent $25 million in a 2019 election cycle that saw every Assembly seat and one state Senate seat on the ballot, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) said Tuesday, making it the lowest level of spending in a decade.
Political campaigns accounted for almost $19 million in election spending, with Democrats dropping $14 million and Republicans $4.7 million, according to a report released by the commission. Outside money groups spent $5.9 million, the lowest amount since 2011. Their spending also leaned blue, with $4 million directed toward Democrats.
The 3-1 spending disparity in favor of Democrats was no surprise. But even with their advantage, Democrats ended up losing two seats in the Assembly and the one in the Senate.
When the new legislative session begins in January, Democrats will hold a 52-28 majority in the lower house and a 25-15 edge in the upper chamber.
In 2017, when all 120 members of the legislature were up for reelection and there was also a race for governor, campaign spending reached a decade-high $67 million, according to the ELEC.
“This year’s election was the most low-key legislative race in a decade,” said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the ELEC. “Maybe campaign donors needed a break.”
Almost half of all outside spending in 2019, about $2.7 million, came from General Majority PAC, a group affiliated with South Jersey political power broker George E. Norcross III.
Most of the election spending in 2019 flowed to swing districts where races were most competitive.
In New Jersey’s 1st Legislative District — which covers Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties, and had the lone state Senate seat up for grabs — almost $3 million flowed to candidates, the most of any district in the state, records show.
But all of the Democratic losses came in this district, with incumbent Democratic State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak losing to Republican challenger Mike Testa and the Democratic incumbents running for Assembly, Matthew Milam and Bruce Land, losing to Republican challengers Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan.
Much of the spending was concentrated in a few places, with almost $16 million — or 64% of all spending — flowing to 10 battleground districts, which included South Jersey’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 8th Legislative Districts.
Next year will be different, with a presidential election, 12 congressional races, and a U.S. Senate seat on the ballot. It’s likely to be one of the priciest elections in recent history.
“Parties and independent groups may be looking ahead and saving their money for next year,” Brindle said.
In 2021, the entire legislature will be on the ballot. Gov. Phil Murphy will also be up for reelection.