Sunlight Policy Center has been active on social media about NJEA President-elect/Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller’s fundraiser for his dark-money Super PAC. We highlighted the pricey levels of sponsorship that are clearly meant to extract maximum dollars from deep-pocketed supporters as well as the use of a non-union facility for an event that was putatively honoring union leaders. But the most ominous aspect of the fundraiser was Spiller’s adding to his political war chest. A mayoral re-election in 2024? Or more alarmingly, a run for governor in 2025?
Sunlight points out that should Spiller run for governor, NJ voters would be confronted with perhaps the largest political conflict of interest in its history.
As Sunlight has documented, Spiller has made a career as an NJEA leader. He will have ascended to the apex of the organization and has been paid millions of dollars along the way. He has been trained by the NJEA’s Political Leadership Academy (PLA) and been supported with hundreds of thousands of dollars of NJEA money for his various Montclair election campaigns. Spiller owes virtually all of his success and wealth to the NJEA.
The NJEA of course recognizes the opportunity that Spiller represents. Indeed, the NJEA has openly declared its wish that one of its PLA graduates might someday become governor, and for good reason. The NJ governor is one of the most powerful governors in the nation. A Governor Spiller’s power over the legislature and the state budget would be substantial. More state education aid, higher taxes, more money dumped into NJ’s broken public pension system, fewer charter schools – and on, and on.
This possibility puts all the NJEA spending to get Spiller elected Montclair mayor in a whole new light. Being mayor of a large town like Montclair serves as a perfect stepping-stone for a gubernatorial run. With its Garden State Forward Super PAC and its unmatched network of allies, the NJEA has shown the ability to spend mind-boggling amounts on election campaigns – like the $6.6 million it dropped on Sen. Sweeney’s head in 2017 or the $10.3 million on Murphy-supporting New Direction New Jersey. One can only imagine the tens of millions the NJEA would be willing to spend to elect a Governor Spiller. And who would get in their way?
NJ citizens should be rightly concerned about this possibility. With its $140 million in taxpayer dollars every year, the NJEA has shown that it can swoop in and dominate local elections in places like Montclair, but with a Governor Spiller, that domination would extend over the whole state. Under Governor Murphy, NJ is a state run for the special interests, but under a Governor Spiller NJ would be a state actually run by the special interests.