TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A nonpartisan group is making its presence felt in New Jersey's legislative elections by supporting four candidates who rank among the most reliable pro-environment votes.
The New Jersey League of Conservation Voters' political action committee is spending the bulk of its $55,000 this year on mailers on behalf of Kip Bateman, the 16th District Republican who tops the group's scorecard in the state Senate.
The first of five mailers could be delivered to voters as early as Friday.
Bateman, whose district includes the Democratic stronghold of Princeton and South Brunswick, was the only Republican to vote to keep New Jersey in a multi-state greenhouse gas reduction agreement, in defiance of Gov. Chris Christie. He has also led the charge on open space preservation funding and achieved a 91 percent overall rating on the league's most recent scorecard.
"Our message to legislators is 'when you stand up for the environment, we'll stand with you. We've got your back,'" said Ed Potosnak, the league's executive director.
But environmental groups haven't been big financial supporters of their legislative friends at re-election time.
A search for political contributions by environmental groups to New Jersey candidates for state and federal office over the past 10 years shows only one expenditure that didn't come from the League — $500 to independent Chris Daggett from the state Sierra Club PAC in the 2009 governor's race. In legislative elections two years ago, the League's PAC spent $10,000 on live and recorded calls for Sen. Bob Gordon, whose District 38 is among the state's most competitive.
Potosnak said the lack of money flowing from environmental PACs to green candidates presents a problem when compared with the amount that comes from "monied interests" often on the other side of environmental fights. Potosnak wants to see more political accountability for lawmakers who cast votes to protect the environment, as well as political consequences for those who don't.
The PAC is also funding field organizers to mobilize volunteers in the campaign offices of Sen. Linda Greenstein and Assemblyman Dan Benson, who are running in District 14, and Assemblyman Peter Barnes III, who is running for Senate in District 18.
The organizers are charged with identifying voters who feel strongly about environmental issues and recruiting them as volunteers for the targeted campaigns. The PAC is spending about $15,000 on salaries for the two organizers and $40,000 on the Bateman mailers.