Gov. Chris Christie has raised as much as he's allowed under a public campaign finance program in his re-election bid while his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, lags far behind.
But a report released Tuesday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission found that spending from outside groups is closer, though it still favors Christie, a Republican.
Outside groups spent close to $10 million to promote Christie going back to the June primary, the commission reported.
Buono benefited from about $8 million in independent spending, though a portion of that money is directed at influencing state legislative races.
The independent groups are not allowed to coordinate with the campaigns. Tracking their activity can be tricky; most do not disclose their donors, and some are not required to report how much they spend, either.
The groups, which were a major factor in last year's presidential election, have spent more than $22 million in New Jersey's governor's and legislative races and on ballot questions, according to the commission's tally. With nearly three weeks to go before the election _ and the traditionally heaviest spending period still ahead _ the independent spending is already well above the New Jersey record of $14 million four years ago.
Both Christie and Buono are accepting public matching funds in the election, a decision that caps their own spending at $12.2 million, with more than $8 million of that coming from the public coffers.
Last week, Christie's campaign received its last disbursement in the program, maxing out what it could get.
Buono has submitted $1.1 million in funds she's raised to the commission and has been sent $1.2 million in matching money.
Buono and Christie were scheduled face off in their second and final debate Tuesday night. It was set for 8 p.m. at Montclair State University and was to be televised by both C-SPAN and public television station NJTV.