Murphy’s millions mix-up media, muddle message & misrepresent nemesis

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has raised a total of $57.4 million in the course of his two campaigns for governor, while in five races for public office, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli has raised a total of $19.2 million—almost 90 percent of that amount in the course for his gubernatorial candidacy—but since the GOP contender has used his campaign budget quickly, the incumbent Democrat has convinced some journalists to report that he is being outspent, which is a bizarre assertion when all the facts are considered.

Democrat Murphy has clearly been able to pull in more money than his opponent, Republican Ciattarelli and the incumbent Democrat has funded multi-million dollar ‘off the books’ super PACs and other dark money enterprises that have heavily advertised his policy agenda, all of which has bought him a comfortable lead in the polls.

In the New Jersey general election, Murphy has already raked in more than $13 million, according to the latest campaign finance report released on Oct. 4, the first financial disclosure deadline of the general election. Of that, nearly $8.2 million came from public funds and about $4.8 million came from contributions higher than $300. Murphy has not received any loans. 

Throughout the general election, Murphy has so far spent just $5.7 million while Ciattarelli has been faster with expenditures, having spent more than $8.9 million. Due to public financing limitations, Murphy can spend another $9.9 million and Ciattarelli can spend $5.7 million in the remaining weeks of the election. It is likely that each candidate will exhaust all of his funds and the Democrat’s outlays will top those of the Republican by at least $100,000.

Murphy was an executive at Goldman-Sachs who used some of his Wall Street fortune to buy the 2017 Democratic nomination for governor in New Jersey’s spectacularly corrupt, boss-dominated political system. While he barely clipped 50 percent of the primary ballots cast, with a budget close to ten times that of his best-funded competitor and fueled with about $20 million of his own money, Murphy won the nomination over five competitors who split the other half of the vote.

Despite using millions of his own money, Murphy went on to collect public funds in the general election against Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who spent eight years as the sidekick to Gov. Chris Christie, whose approval ratings at that point were about 15 percent.

Murphy then plastered the airwaves with advertising from various dark money groups funded by special interests. Without opposition in the primary, Murphy collected $4.1 million in taxpayer money and spent a total just shy of $8 million before Ciattarelli captured the GOP nomination, which was contested by three more conservative challengers.

According to data compiled by Follow The Money, which merged with OpenSecrets in June, Murphy has raised a combined $20.8 million between the general and primary elections. 

Ciattarelli, a former representative in the New Jersey State Assembly, reported nearly $10.1 million in contributions in his Oct. 4 campaign disclosure. The Republican challenger received $6.3 million in public funds and $3.4 million in campaign contributions over $300. While Ciattarelli hasn’t amassed the same wealth of funds as Murphy, he has brought in more small-dollar donations. Ciattarelli reported raising $477,254 via contributions less than $300. Murphy, meanwhile, raised just $205,795 from donations under $300. 

Between the general and primary elections, Ciattarelli has raised $17.2 million. Murphy’s combined primary and general election expenditures are about $13.7 million, with cash on hand of $9.9 million, or $6 million more than the Republican opponent who is being falsely reported as the bigger spender.

New Jersey gubernatorial candidates can receive public financing if they agree to certain restrictions and comply with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

To qualify for public financing, candidates have to raise at least $490,000 but those who receive public funds also have to limit campaign expenditures to $7.3 million in the primary election and $15.6 million in the general election. Additionally, candidates must participate in two debates per election sanctioned by the commission. Murphy’s initial campaign spend three times the legal limit but he only used taxpayer money after winning the Democratic nomination.

Once candidates qualify to receive public funds, they receive $2 of “public matching funds” for every $1 raised. Public funds are capped at $4.6 million in the primary election and $10.5 million in the general election. While many states have public match programs, New Jersey’s program, established in 1974, does not have a limit on the matchable amount of money in a donation.  

The two candidates met in New Jersey’s final gubernatorial debate Tuesday night where they clashed over COVID-19 mandates. While New Jersey doesn’t have a statewide mask mandate, the sitting governor issued a mask mandate for K-12 schools in August due to the delta variant. Additionally, Murphy has signed several executive orders mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for child care center personnel, school personnel and health care workers

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Similar mandates have been made in nearby New York and Connecticut. Throughout the pandemic, the tri-state area governors have instituted similar mandates and COVID-19 restrictions given the high rate of travel between the three states. 

In a fundraising email released after Murphy instituted a mask mandate for students over the age of 2 in child care centers and schools, Ciattarelli said it was “unconstitutional, un-American and has no scientific backing.” 

Ciattarelli reiterated Tuesday night he is against vaccine and mask mandates. 

“I believe that my role as governor when elected is to provide all the information people need to make an informed decision. And then the choice is theirs,” Ciattarelli said

Murphy has continued to lead Ciattarelli in polls leading up to the Nov. 2 election, but his lead has diminished over time. In the latest Stockton University poll released in late September, Murphy led Ciattarelli by 9 points — down from his 13-point lead in a Monmouth University poll from mid-September. 

And with an election focused on COVID-19 policies, Murphy’s lead makes sense. New Jersey overwhelmingly supported President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race, with Biden winning 57.1% of the vote. While New Jersey tends to support the Democratic presidential nominee, Biden won with a larger margin than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 when she brought in 55.5% of the New Jersey vote. Murphy won his gubernatorial seat in 2017 with 55.7% of the vote. 

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, the state has had more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, but their probable case load is likely closer to 1.2 million cases. There have also been 24,850 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus with another 2,803 probable deaths. About 65% of the New Jersey population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The New Jersey gubernatorial general election will take place on Nov. 2. In-person early voting begins on Oct. 23 and vote-by-mail ballots must be received by Nov. 8 but postmarked by Nov. 2. Murphy and Ciattarelli will submit their next campaign finance disclosures on Oct. 22. 

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