New Jersey Republicans and Democrats, campaigning under new pay-to-play rules that make raising money harder than ever, are reaching into the deep pockets of party leaders.
In recent days, Gov. Corzine has written a $37,000 check each to the Democratic organizations in Atlantic, Camden, Gloucester, Mercer, Bergen and Monmouth Counties.
The money he gives to Democratic legislative candidates, or raises on their behalf, is expected to reach $500,000 this season, said his press secretary, Lilo Stainton.
Corzine is no stranger to campaign spending: He poured more than $60 million of his own money into his successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and $40 million into his 2005 run for governor.
On the other side, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo has written checks for $25,000 each to the Assembly and Senate Republican campaign finance committees, and a $35,000 check to the Burlington County GOP.
In addition, Republicans in Burlington County's tense Eighth Legislative District have taken out loans amounting to $300,000. Among those signing for the loans were the candidates, Phil Haines, Scott Rudder and Dawn Marie Addiego; retiring State Sen. Martha Bark; and retiring Assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis. Also on the hook for the money is former Burlington County Republican chairman Glenn Paulsen and a few of his partners at the law firm of Capehart & Scatchard.
All 120 legislative seats are up this year, and nail-biters in Burlington, Atlantic, Cape May and Monmouth Counties are soaking up most of the money on both sides - $13 million, according to the latest campaign-finance reports.
In total, legislative candidates have raised $39.8 million, according to the latest available disclosures. Spending totaled $48 million in 2003, the last time all 120 seats were up.
Party leaders, legislators in easy races, and labor and business political-action committees also are pulling out their checkbooks this year, according to campaign reports that track the flow of money in 48-hour installments.
Officials of both parties say fund-raising this season has been more difficult in part because of new limits on government-vendor donations.
Senate President Richard Codey (D., Essex) said some donors had been confused by the new rules, which prohibit state vendors from giving to the state parties but permit them to give to campaign funds run by the leaders of the party caucuses in the Senate and Assembly. And, he said, some donors just don't want the stigma of making campaign contributions.
Still, money is coming in.
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D., Camden) said "the reality is that in half a dozen battleground districts, the spending is as much as always."
"What we've tried to do is dry up the connection between people who make political contributions and those who award them contracts," said Roberts, who added that more work was needed.
He said he wanted more publicly financed elections, which require candidates to raise limited money that the government then matches in an effort to give middle-class or poor candidates a better shot. Generally, courts have ruled that wealthy candidates who pay for their campaigns are free from most finance limits.
Republicans say they have the added obstacle of being the minority party in both houses; Democrats hold the Senate, 22-18, and the Assembly, 50-30. Few analysts expect that control of either house will change after Tuesday, a notion that has some donors betting more heavily on the Democrats than the GOP.
The Democrats "have an automatic ATM that just keeps sending money out," Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R., Morris) said, noting that Democrats are spending about three times as much as Republicans.
For DeCroce's party, LoBiondo is figuring large in these legislative races.
He backed Atlantic County's James "Sonny" McCullough in a party convention to replace retiring State Sen. William Gormley, defeating a bid by Assemblyman Frank Blee.
And another friend, State Sen. Nicholas Asselta, is under intense fire in Cape May and Cumberland Counties by better-funded Democratic Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew. The future for LoBiondo could be a well-funded Democratic challenger in his Shore-area district, which until recently had been solidly Republican.
LoBiondo said he was deeply engaged in those races to fight "the amount of really obscene money coming in from Camden County against Sonny and Nick."
"I am doing everything possible to help in their efforts," including campaign appearances with Republican candidates, he said.
Others opening their wallets are Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who lent Codey's Senate Democratic Committee $20,000 and donated $5,000. Also giving $25,000 apiece to Democrats were U.S. Reps. Rob Andrews and Albio Sires.
Republicans statewide also are seeing big checks, including $25,000 from Capehart & Scatchard; $20,000 from Philip Morris, the tobacco company; and $25,000 from DeCroce's campaign account.
More loans and hefty contributions are expected in the expensive push for last-minute advertising and get-out-the-vote operations for Tuesday.