Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the frontrunner in New Jersey’s special election to replace the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, has proven adept at raising cash. Enough, in some cases, for four elections.
Booker, a 44-year-old Democrat, has accepted contributions of as much as $10,400 ahead of the Aug. 13 primary, four times the $2,600 federal limit per election. Such fundraising is permissible by law as long as the donor stipulates that the money is for multiple races.
The mayor’s campaign said the money will be used for this year’s primary and general contests, as well as next year’s election cycle. Booker raised $4.6 million between April and June, with donations of at least $10,000 from more than 150 people, including Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Christy R. Walton, the world’s richest woman.
“It demonstrates their level of confidence in him,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “People who can afford to give this type of money to a political candidate are very busy people, and this way you can ask them to do it once and they’re covered for two years.”
Eyes on Prize
Booker, a rising Democratic star, had already filed papers this year with the Federal Election Commission declaring himself a candidate to seek Lautenberg’s seat in 2014. Those plans were fast-tracked by the death of Lautenberg, a Democrat elected to five terms, on June 3 at age 89.
Governor Chris Christie, a 50-year-old Republican, set an August primary and Oct. 16 general election for the seat while appointing a temporary replacement. Whoever wins this year must run again next year when Lautenberg’s term expires.
The back-to-back elections -- four in less than two years - - are a rarity in the Senate, where terms last six years and vacancies are often filled by gubernatorial apppointments that run the length of a departed member’s remaining time in office, said Paul Ryan, an attorney specializing in campaign-finance law and senior counsel for the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center.
“It’s a quirk in the system -- anomaly might be too strong a word -- but these aren’t normal circumstances,” Ryan said. “But it doesn’t raise any red flags.”
Booker, a Rhodes Scholar and Yale University-educated lawyer who moved to Newark in 1996, won the mayor’s seat in 2006 and again in 2010. His efforts to add development and reduce crime in New Jersey’s largest city have attracted investments from Zuckerberg, who pledged $100 million to the city’s schools, as well as hedge-fund managers including Bill Ackman and Leon Cooperman.
The mayor gained national attention last year for saving a neighbor from a fire and for living on food stamps for a week to show the difficulty of relying on the government aid. A frequent Twitter user, Booker has 1.4 million followers on it. He spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and helped lead its platform committee.
His nearest challenger in the Democratic primary, U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, began July with $3.5 million, mostly from the transfer of surplus campaign funds. U.S. Representative Rush Holt had $1.1 million and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver didn’t disclose fundraising because she filed organizing documents after the quarter ended, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission.
Booker got 52 percent support in a Quinnipiac University poll on July 9. Pallone had 10 percent; Holt, 8 percent; and Oliver, 3 percent, as 26 percent were undecided.
The Democratic victor will face the winner of a Republican race between former Bogota Mayor Steven Lonegan and Piscataway physician Alieta Eck. In the Quinnipiac poll, Lonegan topped Eck, 62 percent to 5 percent, while Booker beat Lonegan, 53 percent to 30 percent. New Jersey voters haven’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.
Booker’s campaign is giving each donor a letter specifiying that any money raised above $2,600 will be allotted to future races through the 2014 general election. It also asked donors to sign a separate form acknowledging the allotment, according to a copy of the document provided to Bloomberg News.
Silvia Alvarez, a Booker spokeswoman, said the campaign will make sure the money is spent in accordance with federal guidelines. She declined to say how much will be available for the special election and how much will be earmarked for 2014.
“We are deeply grateful for the support of our contributors, and their faith that Mayor Booker will be the kind of leader who can go to Washington to bring people together,” Alvarez said in an e-mail. “This campaign takes that support and compliance with campaign-finance laws seriously. We will continue to follow the rules.”
Booker got $10,000 or more from Christopher Drake Heinz, an heir to the H.J. Heinz ketchup fortune; Maria Cuomo Cole, daughter of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; cosmetics company founder Bobbi Brown; director J.J. Abrams; and Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump; among others, according to FEC documents filed in the second quarter. Home Depot Inc. co-founder Ken Langone gave $5,200 while actor Ben Affleck and singer Paul Anka both gave $5,000. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Booker has raised another $2 million this month, according to a campaign official who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to disclose financing. That would bring Booker’s total fundraising so far to $8.5 million.
“It certainly doesn’t surprise me -- he has star power and star power attracts campaign contributions,” said state Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth. “Cory Booker eclipses even Chris Christie, who is a governor and a celebrity in his own right. I have not seen anything like this before in terms of fundraising ability -- no one comes close in New Jersey.”