Firms with public contracts made $9.4M in donations in 2017

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey public contractors made $9.4 million in political contributions last year, the first uptick in such spending in four years, according to a new report published Monday.

An Election Law Enforcement Commission report shows the expenditures during last year’s gubernatorial and legislative races increased by 4 percent over 2016. Public contractor expenditures had been declining since 2013, when Republican Gov. Chris Christie was up for re-election.

Despite the uptick, spending among firms that hold contracts with the state is a fraction of the high of $16.4 million recorded in 2007.

Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle attributed last year’s rise to the governor’s race, but added that overall spending among public contractors might be down as part of a bigger trend that sees money go to groups that might not publicly report their data.

“This trend has given a big edge to special interest groups operating independently of parties and candidates,” Brindle said.

The top five donors were engineering firms. Among there were Remington & Vernick Engineers, T&M Associates and the Alaimo Group.

The biggest beneficiary was Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, who got about $180,000 from public contractors. Sweeney was locked in a fight against a Republican opponent who had the support of the state’s biggest teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association. The union spent millions of dollars trying to unseat Sweeney and failed.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy benefited the most among gubernatorial candidates at $114,000, followed by Republican nominee Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno at $65,000.

The report says the total value of public contracts in 2017 was $10.3 billion, up 18 percent over 2016. Those contracts are divided among 1,900 business entities.

By law, businesses with $50,000 or more in public contracts must disclose if they made reportable contributions.

Most firms with state contracts over $17,500 are barred from contributing more than $300, and if they do they must seek refunds for excess contributions or give up their contract for four years.

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