Sen. Barbara Buono's gubernatorial campaign saw its financial hole deepen this week as Gov. Chris Christie raised the maximum amount eligible for public matching funds for the Nov. 5 election while she faced another delay in receiving her first check.
Christie, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who is seeking a second term as New Jersey's governor, has raised the maximum $4.22 million the state accepts for a $2-for-$1 match under its 37-year-old public financing law. His Democratic opponent, Buono, meanwhile, has yet to reach the $380,000 threshold to qualify for public funds, a state election official says.
Buono's campaign has made two submissions to the Election Law Enforcement Commission since winning the June primary, but on Tuesday it resubmitted $265,000 worth of contributions to correct errors, said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the commission, which administers the program. Although she has raised more than $650,000 for the general election, just $179,000 has been certified so far. Some $480,000 in donations is in the pipeline for review, Brindle said, including $215,000 submitted Tuesday.
The holdup is due in part to the time and effort it takes to verify the many small-dollar donations that come to a grassroots campaign like Buono's and follow email blasts asking for as little as $5. Additionally, since donor signatures are needed to qualify for the match, it takes more effort to get verification from an online donor who pays by credit card than from one who wrote a personal check. Buono campaign manager Jonathan Ducote said 64 percent of Buono's contributions have come from online donors. Less than a quarter of Christie's donations have come from online.
“Having to wait on money is a problem,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of The Cook Political Report, where she analyzes gubernatorial and Senate races. “Barbara Buono's biggest problem is that voters don't know a lot about her -- who she is, what she's running on. The only way to tell voters is through ads.”
Buono, the former Democratic leader in the state Senate, has been hobbled financially from the start. An underdog candidate to the popular Christie, she distanced herself early from her party's powerful leaders, and they, in turn, have shunned her candidacy, choosing to instead focus on raising money for the fall legislative races. She raised $1.2 million during the primary, but was the first publicly financed candidate who did not raise enough money to qualify for the maximum match.
The Metuchen senator has also been victimized by bad timing. An unanticipated race for U.S. Senate -- brought about by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg -- has Democrat Cory Booker in the mix, which has sucked both energy and money from the Buono campaign.
Her hopes of receiving help from national Democrats may also be dashed.
She lost an opportunity to fundraise with reports that President Barack Obama has no plans to campaign for her in New Jersey. When Obama visited New Jersey this spring, he and Christie shared a stage to talk about Superstorm Sandy recovery while Buono was in the audience.
Although there are only two governor's races in the country this year, a competitive race in Virginia has caught the interest of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association.
With 36 governor's races next year, those groups may find it hard to justify spending money in New Jersey for a candidate who public polls show is at least 20 percentage points behind. (A minimum of about $1 million would be required in the New York-Philadelphia media market to have any impact on the race.)
“It's after Labor Day,” says Duffy. “Time is running out.”