TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's state government saw a surge in lobbyists spending in 2018 over offshore wind turbines and marijuana legislation, the state Election Law Enforcement Commission said Monday.
The news comes as the state's election and lobbying watchdog released annual data on how much companies, advocacy groups and other stakeholders spent in 2018 to influence state government.
The commission found companies pushing for offshore turbines spent nearly $875,000 in 2018, up 234 percent from 2017.
Marijuana was another top issue. Firms and groups with stakes in medical cannabis and supporting or opposing recreational marijuana boosted spending to about $1.3 million, up 313 percent from the year before.
Despite higher lobbying receipts in those areas, overall spending in 2018 was down 2.5 percent last year compared with 2017, though the commission pointed out the figures could change as additional late entries are filed. Total lobbying receipts reached more than $89 million in 2018. The previous year's $92 million was a record amount
"Lobbying is a vital and fundamental part of democracy," said ELEC executive director Jeff Brindle in a statement. "Total dollars spent rise and fall each year. But there are always new issues driving lobbyists to educate and persuade executive branch officials, legislators and, many times, the public."
The spending largely tracks developments in the Democratic-led Legislature during Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's first year in office.
For instance, Murphy signed legislation last year calling for higher energy production from offshore wind. Murphy and lawmakers are also weighing recreational marijuana legalization, and Murphy expanded the medical marijuana program to include additional illnesses.
Another issue that attracted about $5 million in cash from lobbyists was last year's effort to subsidize the state's three nuclear power plants.
Murphy signed legislation that could provide $300 million in a rate-payer financed rescue package for the plants run by Public Service Enterprise Group, the state's biggest utility. The group spent $1.5 million last year, by far the most of any firm lobbying either in support or against the subsidy.