TRENTON - In bright red lettering, the ad accuses Republican state Senate candidate Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt of having a history of late and unpaid taxes.
When the ad appeared on cable channels in the First District, Adelizzi-Schmidt quickly called on her opponent, Sen. Jeff Van Drew, to denounce it.
But the Cape May County Democrat's campaign did not create the ad. The fine print at the beginning of the 30-second commercial reads: "Paid for by Fund for Jobs, Growth & Security," with a post office box address in Hoboken.
Formed this year, the fund has netted large donations in support of Democrats fighting to retain control of the Legislature. Run by strategists in Washington, and represented by campaign-finance lawyer Marc Elias, who has defended U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), the fund sued the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) this year, winning the ability to accept unlimited contributions.
In an e-mail announcing her new campaign ad Friday, Adelizzi-Schmidt said the fund's ad, paid for by "big labor unions, lobbyists, and Democrat party bosses from Camden . . . represents a new low for South Jersey."
George E. Norcross III, a South Jersey Democratic Party leader, has been raising money for the fund, according to a Democratic source. Norcross, who is a part-owner of The Inquirer, declined to comment.
By the June primary, the fund had received $1.75 million in contributions from three sources, including $1 million from an independent expenditure committee formed by the state's largest teachers' union, according to an ELEC filing.
The fund reported after the primary that it had spent about $500,000 on polling, voter file access, and efforts supporting Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Union County Democrat, and six South Jersey Democratic lawmakers: Van Drew and his Assembly running mates Nelson Albano and Bob Andrzejczak; Atlantic County Sen. Jim Whelan; and Burlington County Assemblymen Herb Conaway and Troy Singleton.
The fund has not filed a report since the primary, so it is unclear how much money it may have raised since. A spokeswoman did not comment on fund-raising goals.
In addition to Garden State Forward, the NJEA's independent committee, the fund lists contributions from the New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters and Working for Working Americans, a super PAC for building trades unions, according to the Open Secrets website run by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The fund's president is Susan McCue, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and president of Message Global, a Washington-based political advocacy firm.
It recently launched a series of ads and websites targeting Republicans vying for South Jersey legislative seats.
A dormer deputy state comptroller, Niki Trunk, who is running against Senate President Stephen Sweeney in the Third District, is under fire in a new television ad from the fund, saying she declared her Salem County property as farmland to get a tax break.
"She's a lawyer, a politician, and a farmer?" the narrator asks as a cartoon rooster crows. Trunk's face is superimposed on a cartoon farmer.
Trunk qualifies for a farmland assessment because she sells firewood, said campaign spokesman Chris Russell. "What she's doing is perfectly legal," Russell said.
The fund has set up a website along with its TV ad against Adelizzi-Schmidt, accusing the public relations firm owner of being "bad for business," with links to documents showing tax liens from the late 1990s into the 2000s placed on a trolley company in South Carolina and 16 late property-tax payments.
Russell, also a spokesman for Adelizzi-Schmidt's campaign, said she was an employee of the trolley company, which her father owned, and that the late property-tax payments were spread over 17 years and incurred "a couple of dollars" in interest.
In a statement, Adelizzi-Schmidt said the ad contradicted a letter Van Drew had sent her supporting a positive campaign.
"He should live up to his own words, strongly denounce these mean-spirited and misleading personal attacks, and call on the party bosses and special interests who are backing his campaign to pull this garbage off the air immediately," she said.
A spokeswoman for Van Drew, Allison Murphy, said the senator had no involvement with the ad. "We have nothing to do with independent expenditures," Murphy said. "By law we cannot communicate or collaborate with them."
Unlike political candidates and parties, independent expenditure committees can accept unlimited contributions but cannot give directly to or collaborate with candidates.
In court documents, the fund said it was established "to make independent expenditures in support of Democratic candidates in state legislative races across the country."
But it is currently only working in New Jersey, where Republicans are pushing to gain seats. Democrats control the Assembly, 48-32, and the Senate, 24-16.
"We can't take anything for granted this election cycle," said Sarah Lovenheim, the fund's communications director. She said the fund is "watching all races" in the state and targeting voters through the Internet, television ads, and mail, and going door to door.
Of the Adelizzi-Schmidt ad, Lovenheim said the Republican "has urged South Jersey voters to support her because of her business record, which makes it fair and appropriate that voters learn about her entire business record."
Justin Richards, a spokesman for Senate Republican Majority, said the fund's "pseudo-anonymous collection of special interests has decided the best way to keep their grip on Trenton power is distortion and character assassination."