Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire John Catsimatidis, one of Bill Clinton’s biggest fundraisers in the 1990s, is the face of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s success drawing out-of-state cash for November’s legislative elections.
Catsimatidis, 63, said he gave $25,000 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee in June, personally and through Red Apple Group, his New York investment company. Donors from Florida to Colorado helped drive a 12-fold increase in funds from other states for the party this year, when all 120 members of the Democratic-controlled Legislature face re-election.
“Whether you agree with him on everything he expounds is irrelevant,” Catsimatidis, a Democrat-turned-Republican, said of Christie in a telephone interview. “He’s an honest guy, number one. And number two, he’s on the taxpayers’ side. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a combination of the two.”
Republicans last led New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly in 2001. While Christie has said he may not regain control this year in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans, the extra money may help keep the majority party from winning enough seats to override his proposals, said Patrick Murray, polling director at Monmouth University in West Long Branch.
Individuals, corporations and political action committees outside New Jersey gave at least $529,000 to the Republican State Committee in the first half of 2011, out of $1.7 million raised, according to campaign finance records. In the same period of 2007, the last time the full Legislature faced re-election, non-residents donated $42,366 of $544,424 gathered.
In California, non-resident donations to the state Republican party totaled $253,223 so far this year out of $1 million raised, according to finance documents. Republicans are the minority in both legislative houses and Governor Jerry Brown is a Democrat.
Since taking office, Christie has headlined Republican fundraisers in states including New York and Pennsylvania, and built up a wellspring of support within his party as he campaigns for Republicans from Massachusetts to New Mexico.
Contributors to the New Jersey Republican party this year include New York’s Kenneth Langone, co-founder of Home Depot Inc., who gave $10,000 in June; and Paul Fireman, founder of Reebok International Ltd., with $25,000 in May. Christie has said Langone urged him to run for president during a meeting in June.
Jim McCarthy, a Langone spokesman in Washington, declined to make him available for comment. A call to Fireman’s office in West Palm Beach, Florida, wasn’t returned.
Christie has become a national Republican star after he cut $10 billion in spending on schools, pensions and towns in his first budget. He has said repeatedly that he has no plans to run for president next year.
The governor campaigned across the nation for his party’s candidates in the November 2010 elections, when Republicans captured control of 11 legislatures.
In February, he met with billionaire oilman David Koch, and in June he gave a speech to about 400 people at a private conference in Colorado sponsored by the Tea-Party-backing Koch and his brother Charles.
Christie also gave a speech in February to the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based public-policy center that favors limited government and free markets, and in July he traveled to Iowa to talk at an education summit.
“He does have a national reputation that gets him into the right rooms and gets a reaction that most governors wouldn’t,” said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the Washington-based Cook Political Report. “When people believe you have a bright future, it makes it a lot easier to raise money.”
Forced to Compromise
Democrats in New Jersey control the Senate 24-16 and the Assembly 47-33. They need a two-thirds majority, or 27 members in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly, to override Christie vetoes, and three-fifths to send proposals directly to voters.
Democratic control has forced Christie, New Jersey’s first Republican elected governor in 12 years, to compromise on a local property-tax cap and an overhaul of public employee pensions and benefits. He was unable to enact some education proposals, including basing teacher pay on student performance.
Jon Lubert, of IL Hedge Investments in Philadelphia, said he supports Christie’s efforts to change teacher tenure, enact merit pay and jettison “your parents’ entitlement programs.”
Lubert, who grew up in New Jersey and lives in Philadelphia, said it’s a “shame” Christie isn’t running for president in 2012. He gave the Republican State Committee $2,000 in May.
“It has become clear that state politics affect Congress and that winning governorships and other local offices will influence national politics,” Lubert said in an e-mail.
Christie, 49, told reporters yesterday that out-of-state donors “like the policies we’re pursing here in New Jersey and they support that because they think I’m setting a good example for other states and leaders across the country.”
The governor said the donations don’t buy those people extra access to his administration, and that he’s never met most of them.
The Democratic State Committee raised $377,254 through June 30, down from $1.2 million four years earlier, largely because former Governor Jon Corzine, an ex-Goldman, Sachs & Co. co-chairman and major political contributor, scaled back donations after losing his 2009 re-election bid to Christie. Democrats still hold a two-to-one edge in fundraising by individual candidates, with $9.5 million in reserves, compared with $4.2 million for Republicans, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
The New Jersey Education Association, which typically endorses Democrats and has battled with Christie over his proposals, spent $6.9 million in 2010, more than any other lobbying organization, according to an annual report. The group has 200,000 members and raises as much as $100 million a year through dues.
The group will begin contributing to 69 endorsed individual candidates this month in blocks ranging from $3,500 to $8,200, including those who opposed Christie’s pension and benefit changes, rather than giving to the state committee, said Steve Baker, a spokesman. He declined to say how much the group has on hand to spend, or to confirm a Record of Hackensack report that it had spent $1.4 million on elections over the past five years.
John Wisniewski, chairman of the Democratic State Committee, said his party has been tracking Christie’s out-of-state fundraising and is concerned those donors hold too much sway on decisions including cuts to women’s health funding.
“He is a commodity in right-wing, conservative circles and that spells dollars,” Wisniewski, 49, an assemblyman from Sayreville, said in an interview. “His entire playbook has become about getting onto the Republican national stage, raising money and flirting with presidential ambitions. That has nothing to do with what’s best for the people of New Jersey.”
During town-hall meetings earlier this year, Christie urged voters to send him a Republican majority to speed up passage of his agenda. In April, his party lost a battle over the state’s legislative boundaries, when a panel approved an electoral map that assures Democrats will remain in control of the Legislature, said Monmouth University’s Murray.
Christie, during his radio show this month, said he hoped to “make some progress” this year toward winning seats.
“Moving toward a Republican majority in the Senate and Assembly is a process, it might not happen in this election --it might take two,” he said.
Christie, who faces re-election in 2013, may be better off politically with the status quo, said Brigid Harrison, who teaches law and politics at Montclair State University.
“This is a governor who is best served by having a Democratic Legislature -- it allows him to blame any of the inadequacies on that,” Harrison said. “I think his chances at re-election are even better with a Democratic majority in the statehouse.”
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