Adler-Runyan contest is N.J.'s most expensive

Posted: October 28, 2010

More than $5 million from sources known and unknown have poured into New Jersey's Third District congressional race, one of the nation's tightest and most-watched elections.

U.S. Rep. John Adler, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, Jon Runyan, had raised more than $4.3 million as of Oct. 13, according to the latest available federal campaign reports. On top of that, outside groups have spent in excess of $1 million. The combined purse, for a job that pays $174,000, is the highest for any race in the state.

And the money keeps flowing. On Wednesday, the New Jersey Education Association reported spending $100,000 on a television ad to support Adler, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Beyond the traditional political action committees and the candidates' campaign funds, at least two groups with secret donor lists have stakes in the race.

The Third District, which covers Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County, is one of about 80 House races that could tilt the balance of power in Congress from Democratic to Republican. Recent independent polls have shown the election is too close to call.

As a result, the local contest has become a miniature "national" election, drawing money from far beyond New Jersey, said Rutgers University Eagleton Institute associate director John Weingart.

"There aren't that many people outside the district who care about Adler or Runyan specifically, but they do care about which party controls the Congress," Weingart said. "So it's in the interests of people who contribute to the campaigns from all over the country to help this race go in the direction they want it to go."

Two-thirds of Adler's money and about half of Runyan's comes from outside New Jersey.

Adler raised $1 million of his $3.1 million from Jersey interests while Runyan raised $626,000 of his $1.2 million instate, according to campaign-finance reports. That includes $350,000 the former Eagles lineman loaned to his own campaign.

Much of Runyan's Garden State money has come from the usual Republican contributors, many of whom are government vendors. He also received support from U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) and former U.S. Rep. James Saxton, a fellow Republican who held the Third District seat until his resignation in 2008.

But Runyan has taken contributions from donors as far away as Alabama and Wisconsin. Runyan's former Eagles coach, Andy Reid, and his wife, Tammy, who live in Montgomery County, sent a check for $1,200.

Adler has raised money from donors from Cherry Hill to Camarillo, Calif. From Lewistown, Mont., for example, he received $850 from Neal Lloyd Johnson. Johnson is counsel to Mawarid Holding, a private investment company headed by Saudi Prince Fahd bin Khalid. In an e-mail, Johnson said he attended Harvard Law School with Adler.

Runyan has received support from more mysterious donors: the Republican-leaning American Future Fund and Americans for Prosperity. Neither group is obligated to divulge its contributors. Though Adler voted to unmask such "super PAC" groups, which have proliferated in this midterm election cycle, Runyan says he is comfortable with the law regarding blind campaign funding.

Runyan also has New Jersey's favorite Republican raising money for him. Gov. Christie has appeared at rallies and was the featured guest at an event last month that raised $150,000. The host of the fund-raiser was the governor's friend, Bill Palatucci.

"A lot of people felt it was their way to participate in the national tide to bring back a [Republican] majority in Washington," said Palatucci, a Morris County lawyer and former Republican Party official.

Adler has a 4-1 advantage over Runyan in cash on hand, according to the latest FEC reports.

Adler - a vulnerable freshman legislator - is a member of the Financial Services Committee, one of the House's most powerful committees. He could raise significant campaign cash from the financial, insurance, and real estate industries the panel regulates.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he has raised $534,000 from those interests. He also has received money from lawyers, lobbyists, and labor unions.

Adler said he sought an appointment to the committee because he wanted to play a role in fixing the nation's economic crisis. He has worked on reforming Wall Street as well as loosening up loan money for small businesses, he says.

Runyan criticized Adler for calling a news conference in May to pressure the Senate to pass the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act - which regulates banking and derivatives - while also raising money from the financial industry.

But Runyan has sought and received almost $35,000 from the same industries.

The candidates' funds pay for television advertising as well as their campaigns' get-out-the-vote operations.

Broadcast television time would cost about $1.7 million a week, say experts, because the Third District is in the New York and Philadelphia media markets. To save money, the candidates have run their ads on cable television, but it is likely one or both will place commercials on broadcast television before Tuesday.


Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.

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