Lobbyists spent a record amount of money trying to influence New Jersey's state government in 2020, the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission said Tuesday.
Spending topped $105 million, up 3.4% over 2019, which set the previous record and saw spending top $100 million for the first time.
Jeff Brindle, the commission's executive director, connected the spending to the coronavirus pandemic, pointing out that about 40% of the bills lawmakers took up last year centered on the virus.
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“Given the unprecedented nature of this crisis, it follows that there would be a major legislative and executive response as well as heavy engagement by the lobbying community,” Brindle said in a statement.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a number of coronavirus-related bills and executive orders, including one that slashes unemployment insurance tax rates and another that institutes a moratorium on utility shutoffs.
Another factor in the higher spending was the legalization of the recreational marijuana marketplace, which Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law late last month.
The biggest spender was the state's largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, which met with the governor's office on the issue of school's reopening.
The second-biggest spender was New Direction New Jersey, a nonprofit founded by Murphy's 2017 campaign manager, expended almost $5 million mostly on media campaigns to promote the governor's policy agenda. Murphy faces reelection this year.
Another big spender was the state's biggest insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, which pushed for and won a major reorganization last year.
On marijuana, Scotts Miracle-Gro has become one of the biggest investors in recreational marijuana, which has spent $2 million. Forty percent of that went to influence voters in November, when they approved a ballot measure permitting recreational marijuana for those 21 and older by a 2-to-1 margin.
Acreage Holdings and Compassionate Care Centers of America Foundation were also top marijuana lobbying spenders. Though Murphy didn't sign the legalization measures until this year, companies recognized the state would move forward since voters approved recreational cannabis.
It could take six months or more for the recreational market to be set up in New Jersey, though, and companies are expected to compete for a limited number of licenses.
New Jersey requires anyone employed with trying to influence legislation, regulations or government processes to file reports with the commission, detailing the issues they’re influencing and spending.
There are some exceptions in the state's lobbying law, including actions carried out by political parties or on behalf of a religious group. Those who aren't compensated also don't have to report to the state.