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Jon Corzine: Big Spender

June 7, 2000 at 12:00 AM EST
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JON CORZINE: Let’s win this primary so we can take this agenda to the fall election, beat the Republicans and get an agenda that works for America. Thank you.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jon Corzine didn’t attract the same free TV time the New York media showered on Hillary Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani and Rick Lazio. After all, Corzine was running for the U.S. Senate on the other side of the Hudson River, in New Jersey. But most people in northern New Jersey watch and get their news from New York City’s commercial television station, just as people in Southern New Jersey watch Philadelphia television.

ANNOUNCER: NJN News with Ted Manahan.

ANCHOR: Today is primary election day in New Jersey.

KWAME HOLMAN: New Jersey’s only statewide newscast is on public television and attracts only a fraction of the viewers the commercial stations do. So Jon Corzine, a political newcomer with no statewide name recognition just a few months ago, bought television time and lots of it. The multimillionaire, former CEO of the Goldman Sachs investment firm reportedly spent $25 million of his own money to produce campaign ads and air them on the expensive New York City and Philadelphia commercial stations.

SPOKESMAN: We can build a better future. We just need the courage to pursue bold ideas. I hope you’ll give me the chance to do that as your United States Senator.

KWAME HOLMAN: Suddenly, everyone knew who Jon Corzine was.

JON CORZINE: Good evening. Whoa! (Applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: Last night, Jon Corzine declared victory, having won the Democratic nomination for New Jersey’s open Senate seat, handily defeating former Governor Jim Florio.

JON CORZINE: Tonight this campaign, my candidacy has taken a next step, a very big next step. But it’s not the final step. The final step is on November 7. That’s when we elect the next United States Senator.

KWAME HOLMAN: In all, Corzine spent nearly $34 million on his campaign, already a record for a Senate candidate. And Corzine still has the general election ahead of him. Today, on ABC’s Good Morning America, Corzine made no apologies for spending as much as he did.

JON CORZINE: You know, I ran against a competitor, a very formidable competitor who had run four statewide elections, had 100 percent name recognition, had spent $35 million, plus, over 20 years or more. And he had complete name recognition, and it would have been a very, very difficult task to take on someone with that kind of identity. If you were running against someone who was equally unknown, then it would be a different process, a different kind of campaign.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the general election, Corzine will face four-term Congressman Bob Franks, who came out on top in a four-way race for the Republican nomination for Senate.

GWEN IFILL: For more on the record-breaking New Jersey Senate race, we turn to two students of the state’s political scene: Jim Goodman, a political reporter for the Trenton Times, and Ingrid Reed, the manager of the campaign forum, at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. Ingrid Reed, the Philadelphia Inquirer points out today that Jon Corzine spent more getting the Senate nomination, the Democratic primary nomination than Al Gore has spent in the entire nominating process in all 50 states this year. Did Jon Corzine buy this nomination?

INGRID REED: Well, Jon Corzine had to spend a lot of money to be a good competitive candidate in this race. That’s what happens in New Jersey, because in order to be known, you have to have a lot of money to buy television ads on the highest… the first market in the United States and the fourth highest market in the United States. What the voters got was a competitive race because Mr. Corzine decided to spend his own money on his campaign. Whether he spent too much, that’s for others to judge. But I think the reality is that for New Jersey to have had probably two candidates in the Democratic primary, someone had to spend a lot of money. As you know, Governor Florio was well known around the state. The Democratic Party did not have resources, so the question was, where would the money come to present another campaign?

GWEN IFILL: So Jim Goodman, you’ve covered New Jersey politics for a while. Tell me exactly what New Jersey voters think. Do they care that he spent all this money?

JIM GOODMAN: Well, everything that we’ve known in the last… Or heard in the last couple of months indicated that the really didn’t. They weren’t spending the taxpayers’ money. And you know, Jim Florio tried to characterize Corzine’s campaign as a hostile takeover of the New Jersey Democratic Party. In fact, it was a negotiated deal, a partnership. The Democrats needed a candidate, a candidate whose name wasn’t Jim Florio. This is a Democratic leadership, in most of the populist Democratic counties in states. And Jon Corzine was willing to do it, they’re willing to spend his money, but only if those North Jersey leaders agreed that they were going to support him and try to get the their organizations to back him and give him the party line on ballots. They did it, and he won huge in Essex County and Hudson County, the two big Democratic counties that decide elections. You know…

GWEN IFILL: So what you’re saying is there was…

JIM GOODMAN: It’s history, it’s over, there’s no longer a controversy about money.

GWEN IFILL: So what you’re saying is there wasn’t anybody but Jim Florio’s movement afoot in New Jersey?

JIM GOODMAN: Well, that’s been the Democratic line for seven years now, and Jim Florio I guess today probably accepts it.

GWEN IFILL: Ingrid Reed, is that right? Does nobody care about money?

INGRID REED: Well, I think they do care about money. In fact, the anecdotal evidence that we have from the voters really does support the idea that it was Mr. Corzine’s money. He wasn’t… he isn’t beholden and he wasn’t beholden to special interests, which of course is the other way of getting money. But you do need money to run a campaign, and you do need money to have two candidates competing with each other. And I think what we see in New Jersey is that the voters decided that if a person wanted to spend his own fortune for public service activities, that may not be a bad way to spend your money. Now, that raises other questions, though, for society. And that is: How do you get candidates that people can choose who their representative will be if they’re not wealthy or if they’re not beholden to other people who are wealthy or who have interests in supporting them?

GWEN IFILL: Jim Goodman, what do we know about Jon Corzine, besides his wallet? What else do we know about him?

JIM GOODMAN: We know and I think his ads, which were brilliantly done, made him a likable person, a soft-spoken, not a harsh, shrill candidate, something that Jim Florio has always had a problem with — the shrillness of his voice, the inability to not look like he was ready to scale the wall at Iwo Jima tomorrow just to win an election.

GWEN IFILL: Other than not being Jim Florio, were there issues that Jon Corzine was…

JIM GOODMAN: I think he identified himself with the health issue, with Social Security reform. I don’t think very many people got much of an impression of what he would actually do. And I’m sure the Republicans the next few months are going to characterize that as something dreamed up by a Marxist professor in a remote college in New England.

GWEN IFILL: Ingrid Reed, let’s talk about the Republicans. They had…

JIM GOODMAN: — Rutgers University.

GWEN IFILL: Yes, not Rutgers. They had a little late-night drama on the Republican ticket last night, but it sounds like they finally have settled on a nominee.

INGRID REED: That was a very competitive race. You had four people who all have experience in New Jersey. Three of them have held elective office. None of them were known statewide. So they also had to get support at the county level from county chairs, organize the get-out-to-vote effort and build on their base, which they basically did. State Senator Gormly from the southern part of the state came very close, but Bob Franks, who had been the state party chair for the Republicans and was probably better known around the state, as well as being a member of Congress for four terms, prevailed. We also had a third candidate who held elective office, and ran very well in his home county of Essex County. And a fourth candidate had run in the gubernatorial campaign, was very conservative. But this was a contest that the voters had a very good choice. They had to decide who could lead the party in November.

GWEN IFILL: Jim Goodman, Bob Franks said at his… when he claimed victory last night, “I’m the candidate with values and experience that money can’t buy.” Is that the opening salvo in another big expensive campaign?

JIM GOODMAN: Well, it’s a nice line, but if Bob Franks doesn’t get money, he’s going to have a lot of problems in the fall. He has the name recognition that Corzine had, not quite that severe, I mean, but Franks is basically known within the party. He’s well-liked within the party. But it’s kind of interesting that Franks really originated the campaign that Jon Corzine ran this year against a fellow Democrat, Jim Florio. He said that wasn’t the fact that Florio raised taxes; it was that had he lied about it. Now, Corzine… Franks said this he lied about it. Corzine said he misled the people, he knew that he was going to have to raise taxes and said he didn’t have to. That’s a ten-year-old campaign. We don’t know how that’s going to work this fall.

GWEN IFILL: Yeah. Ingrid Reed, let’s take this national.

INGRID REED: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: What did George W. Bush and Al Gore have to gain or lose by what happens until the fall in New Jersey?

INGRID REED: Well, this is an open seat. There’s great contention for Congress. But also, New Jersey is an important state, and I think what happens in New Jersey will also depend on what happens nationally. New Jersey can go either way. It elects a Democratic Senator, and turns around and elects a Republican governor. I think that the other thing they may want to watch is the money issue. Certainly in the primary campaign, presidential primary campaign, we heard a lot about it. We haven’t heard anything recently. I think Mr. Corzine’s effort on his own behalf in spending his own money may be an issue in the New Jersey campaign, and it may be an issue as we try to figure out how to fund campaigns, make them fairer without special interests or very wealthy people having a corner on being candidates.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about that, wealthy people having…

JIM GOODMAN: Jon Corzine will raise a lot of money on his own, not just spend his money. And he’s saying now that he’s not going to spend anywhere near as much on a general election. Some of his people say it might be half what he spent in the primary.

GWEN IFILL: He certainly couldn’t spend more, could he, Jim?

JIM GOODMAN: They’ll probably make an issue on… I don’t see how they can make an issue over Corzine’s money when George Bush basically made the Republican presidential nomination with contributions from his friends and special interests groups, but he was awash at that point.

GWEN IFILL: Here’s a question that everybody around the country is watching. Does the outcome from this race mean that people who are not multimillionaires can run for public office anymore?

JIM GOODMAN: Well, it’s pretty tough. If you haven’t worked your way up through the system or you don’t have… Like Bill Bradley. If Bill Bradley hadn’t played basketball, would he have ever been a New Jersey Senator? I don’t think so if George Bush wasn’t the son of a President, would he be the governor of Texas?

INGRID REED: There’s a real problem today. Who can be a candidate today? Who can represent the people? I think that’s probably the reason why public funding of campaigns gets on the ballot in several states. We have it in New Jersey for our gubernatorial campaign, and it definitely levels the playing field. But I think people will have to try to figure out what their values are, and that’s a very tough thing for the voters to do. So we’re looking at political leadership, and we haven’t seen that prevail in terms of reforming campaign finance to date.

JIM GOODMAN: The reality is that New Jersey’s law, gubernatorial campaign financing was passed after Watergate, passed after a scandal in New Jersey that drove a Republican governor out of office. And no state in the country has repeated that law. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen unless we have a scandal of gigantic proportions.

GWEN IFILL: Jim Goodman, Ingrid Reed, thank you both very much.

INGRID REED: Thank you.