Possibly the biggest name at the 2013 Republican Governor's Association conference in Arizona — a meet up featuring more than a few presidential hopefuls — is Chris Christie. The New Jersey chief executive has just taken over the lead role at the GOP's gubernatorial association from outgoing chair, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
Jindal and Christie both had their eyes on the 2014 gig. Sources told CNN that although Christie had scheduling issues with his 2013 gubernatorial campaign, he ultimately won the coveted post thanks to strong backing from his RGA colleagues, with Jindal settling for 2013. As the Garden State governor settles into the new role, Sunlight's review of state campaign finance data, combined with information from Political Party Time, shows that Christie brings with him both substantial clout and a national network of donors to his new, highly visible role.
One of the perks of chairing the RGA in 2014 is the added exposure that comes with an election cycle. The RGA chair will gain plenty of media attention and will control the purse strings of the behemoth Republican 527 group — which currently boasts over $45 million in cash on hand according to a recent RGA press release the organization. That war chest will enable Christie to do a lot of financial favors for state candidates, a particularly attractive prospect for a governor looking to lay the groundwork for a 2016 presidential run.
Both parties' gubernatorial arms have garnered press attention in recent months, thanks in part to the controversional efforts by the Democratic Governors' Association to get a federal stamp of approval on their designs to solicit unregulated funds through a separate organization, the Jobs and Opportunity Organization, that would then be used for 'get out the vote' expenditures in state races. The Baltimore Sun editorial board, among others, decried the DGA's move as an attempted circumvention of campaign finance laws and a power grab by then-chair of the DGA, Gov. Martin O'Malley. Like Christie, O'Malley is eyeing a 2016 presidential run.
Ultimately, however, the Federal Election Commission did not support the DGA's opinion and the two governors' associations remain beholden to the FEC's regulations. That won't prevent them from being an active force on the state political scene.
While Christie's political stock may or may not climb with his new role at the RGA's helm, campaign finance data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission shows that he already has a substantial national base of donors. His 2013 gubernatorial campaign drew sizable portions of its funds from out of state contributors: More than $2.3 million in the primary and more than $1.8 million in the general election came from sources outside the state of New Jersey.
These figures are even more impressive given that New Jersey has strict limits on individual contributions. While Virginia hopefuls Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe could raise tens of millions thanks in large part the Dominion state's wide open rules and to six-figure donations from businesses and PACs, per New Jersey law no single entity may give more than $3,800 per cycle to a gubernatorial candidate.
Indidvidual limits were no problem for Christie. The repeat governor's bruising fundraising pace crushed that of his opponent, Barbara Buono, a state senator, as Christie's campaign more than it could spend on the New Jersey race. As reported by Sunlight, the campaign raised more than $12.4 million for the general election, while candidates who spend more than $12.2 million lose the state's generous matching funds — perhaps a hint that Christie's campaign staff was preparing for another election.
Christie's numerous trips out of state were also indicative of a man eyeing a higher office. Party Time records show the GOP has been fêted across the nation, receiving help from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and World Wrestling Entertainment head Vince McMahon. There was also, of course, the endorsement from NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neil.
These excursions — along with his aggressive in-state fundraising — paid dividends for Christie, and in 2013 his campaign raised more than ten times the Buono camp.
While information about the industries bankrolling Christie's most recent election is still being processed, historically, law firms and retired individuals have been the two largest sources of Christie's campaign cash, Influence Explorer shows. The Jerseyite also benefits from his proximity to the financial centers of New York City — the securities sector has been the third largest source of campaign funds.
Time will tell if the RGA post will help the Republican drum up even more donors from outside the Garden State.
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