Sweeney super PAC raises nearly $1.2 million

TRENTON - The super PAC backing New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney's likely candidacy for governor in 2017 has raised nearly $1.2 million since June, according to an email the group sent to donors Thursday.

The fund-raising haul is the latest sign that the shadow campaign to succeed Gov. Christie, a Republican running for president, is well underway.

Stephen Sweeney. Super PAC plans to name donors.

In May, the political action committee, New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow, filed paperwork with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission saying it planned to support "candidates for elected office in the state of New Jersey through independent activity."

The PAC, which can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money on elections, is chaired by Sean Kennedy, a former government aide to Sweeney (D., Gloucester).

The group has also said it intends to disclose its donors with state regulators, though it is not required to do so under state law.

Federal law requires super PACs - which gained prominence in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 - to identify their donors.

"Every day brings us closer to the end of Gov. Christie's administration," Kennedy wrote in an email to donors Thursday morning.

"On Tuesday, in his State of the State address, he reminded us that he's replaced forward progress for New Jersey with cheap political points for New Hampshire. Once again, he made it clear that our hardworking middle-class families, seniors, and small businesses are not his priority.

"That's why the 2017 gubernatorial election is so important," Kennedy continued. "It will give voters a chance to elect a Democrat who has spent his life in service to middle-class families and middle-class values - a leader who always has and always will put New Jersey first."

That leader, Kennedy wrote, is Sweeney. The senator did not return a message seeking comment.

Other Democrats likely to seek their party's gubernatorial nomination in June 2017 include Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany. Possible Republican candidates include Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R., Union) and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

"Over the coming months you'll be hearing more from us about why Senate President Sweeney is the right person, at the right time, to create a better tomorrow for all New Jerseyans," Kennedy wrote.

The PAC donated $25,000 to another super PAC last year to help expand the Democrats' majority in the Assembly.

Super PACs must file fund-raising reports with the Election Law Enforcement Commission by Friday. The reports will be made public a week from then, according to the agency.

"The gubernatorial campaign is starting earlier and earlier in New Jersey, following a pattern of what happens at the national level," said Jeff Brindle, the agency's executive director.

While super PACs are relatively new, so-called independent committees have long helped would-be candidates. In 2001, for example, nonprofit organizations and political action committees spent nearly $5 million before the campaign officially began, according to an analysis by the commission.

Democrat Jim McGreevey defeated Republican Bret Schundler in that general election.