The New York Times

Races For Seats In Trenton Raise Funds At A Fast Clip

The New York Times — Thursday, October 30, 2003


TRENTON, October 29 — In the final stage of the campaign, New Jersey's legislative races are drawing contributions at a record pace – millions of dollars a week – most of them aimed at giving Democrats control of the evenly divided State Senate.

The 120 candidates for Senate and Assembly seats – all are on the ballot this year – had received a total of $34.7 million as of Friday, according to reports released on Wednesday by the State Election Law Enforcement Commission.

In one South Jersey district, which Democrats are trying to capture with a novice Senate candidate, the ticket has received $3.3 million, shattering all records for a State Senate race. Three of the top five fund-raisers are Democratic Senate challengers, and another is a Democrat who was considered vulnerable until his opponent withdrew from the race.

And in an election season with advertising that has crowded the airwaves from Delaware to Connecticut, a final blast of spending can be expected in the final week.

So far this year, the Democrats have a fund-raising advantage of three to two over Republican candidates, with $21 million to the Republicans' $13.6 million. Democrats have outspent Republicans nearly two to one, $15.3 million to $7.8 million.

The reports released on Wednesday accounted only for the individual candidates' campaign funds. The political action committees of the state parties and legislative leaders had raised an additional $18 million as of Oct. 15, though much of that has since been distributed to candidates, and other PAC's have been reporting on a rolling basis. Ten candidates or joint candidate committees have raised more than $500,000, with three receiving more than $1 million.

At this point in the election cycle in 2001, when voter interest was higher because there was a governor's race, the candidates had raised $27.4 million. One candidate had raised $1.1 million, and only one other had passed the $500,000 mark. The total raised for legislative candidates two years ago was $41.2 million.

While Senate races account for 17 of the top 20 candidates in fund-raising, both parties are vying for control of the Assembly as well. The Democrats have a 41-to-38 advantage, with one Green Party member.

The biggest fund-raiser this year has been Fred Madden, a Democrat who is challenging a popular incumbent, George F. Geist, in the South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. Mr. Madden and his running mates – each district has one senator and two Assembly members – have raised $3.3 million and spent $2.9 million.

The other Democratic challengers in the top five are Anthony J. Cimino, who has raised $890,688 in his campaign against Senator Peter Inverso in a district near Trenton, and Ellen Karcher, who has received $884,845 in her race against John O. Bennett, the Republican Senate co-president, in Monmouth County.

Mr. Bennett has spent much of this year fighting off allegations of improprieties in his law firm's billing of municipal clients. He has raised $426,348, just under half of Ms. Karcher's total. And, in a departure from the pattern of party money pouring in to close races, Mr. Bennett has received nothing from the state party or legislative leadership PAC's aside from $1,437 in postage.

The escalation in campaign spending is prompting complaints by watchdog groups and some legislators who have been advocating campaign finance reforms. "No matter what we try to do to improve the rules of the game, it's the game itself that must change," said Steve Bonime, an organizer with New Jersey Citizen Action.

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