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2000-06-07

ATM for Senate: The Campaign of Jon Corzine of New Jersey

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Propelled from obscurity by his record-shattering $33 million campaign, Jon Corzine captured New Jersey’s Democratic Senate nomination yesterday and ruined the comeback hopes of former Gov. Jim Florio. Corzine is the former CEO of the investment brokerage firm Goldman Sachs. [includes rush transcript]

When the relatively unknown Corzine announced he was running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring three-term Democrat Frank Lautenberg, polls showed him behind Florio 2-1. But by last month, after Corzine blitzed the airwaves with a $2 million per week ad campaign and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into state and local Democratic organizations that endorsed him, polls showed him ahead by double digits.

Corzine’s primary spending, roughly $140 per vote, shattered the previous U.S. record for a Senate campaign–$30 million spent by Republican Michael Huffington in his losing 1994 bid for office in California.

Corzine has a personal fortune estimated at $400 million. He raised just $2.5 million for his campaign. The rest came from his own pocket.

Corzine raised eyebrows by spending $200,000 for a private eye to dig up dirt on Florio and millions to unleash a blizzard of TV ads that slammed Florio for disastrous tax hikes while governor. Florio compared Corzine’s tactics to the KGB and accused his rival of trying to buy the election.

Guest:

  • Doug Ireland, currently writing a series for The Nation magazine on key Senate races around the country. As part of this series he has written on the New Jersey race between Jon Corzine and Jim Florio.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Right now, we’re going to go to a major story coming out of New Jersey. Propelled from obscurity by his record-shattering $33 million campaign, Jon Corzine captured New Jersey’s Democratic Senate nomination last night and ruined the comeback hopes of former Governor Jim Florio. Corzine is the former CEO of the investment brokerage firm Goldman Sachs.

When the relatively unknown Corzine announced he was running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring three-term Democrat Frank Lautenberg, polls showed him behind Florio two-to-one. But by last month, after Jon Corzine blitzed the airwaves with a $2 million-per-week ad campaign and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into state and local Democratic organizations that endorsed him, polls showed him ahead by double digits.

Well, Corzine’s primary spending, roughly $140 per vote, shattered the previous U.S. record for a Senate campaign, that was $30 million spent by Republican Michael Huffington in his losing bid for office in California.

Jon Corzine has a personal fortune estimated at $400 million. He has raised just $2.5 million for his campaign. The rest came from his own pocket. He raised eyebrows by spending $200,000 for a private eye to dig up dirt on Florio and millions to unleash this blizzard of TV ads that slammed Florio. Florio compared Corzine’s tactics to the KGB and accused his rival of trying to buy the election.

We’re joined right now by Doug Ireland. He is currently writing a series for The Nation magazine on key Senate races around the country. As part of this series he has been following the New Jersey race between Jon Corzine and Jim Florio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Doug Ireland.

DOUG IRELAND:

Good morning, Amy and Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, Doug, what do you make of this, of this recent vote, yesterday’s vote? I mean, we’ve had examples of multi-millionaires around the country who didn’t get very far, and yet Corzine has come out of nowhere to win this race.

DOUG IRELAND:

Well, I’d say it’s certainly another indication of how sick our democracy is from the corrupting power of big campaign cash. In fact, Corzine, when all the numbers finally come in, is probably going to have spent closer to $40 million to buy this Senate nomination. He not only spent lavishly on television, he — it was widely reported in investigative pieces in the Philly Inquirer and the Bergen Record and other newspapers — was ladling out the cash to the machines controlled by the North New Jersey bosses and to their candidates, and he was using his foundation to give tax-exempt money to neighborhood groups, churches, particularly black churches, that are crucial in get-out-the-vote operations.

As one liberal Democratic county chairman in New Jersey told me, “I’m not against Jon Corzine. I’m against the idea of Jon Corzine.” Here’s a guy who had never been involved in community affairs, wasn’t even a registered Democrat until a year or two ago, had given a lot of money to Republicans, had never voted in Democratic primaries previously and came out of nowhere, hired himself a bunch of highly priced political consultants, paid them lavishly, spread the cash around to just about everybody in New Jersey that he could reach and turned a thirty-plus-point deficit in the polls into what appears to be about a sixteen-point victory in the primary. He has spent more in this primary than anyone has ever spent in a Senate race in the primary and the general election.

Jim Florio, who had a lengthy record of public service, first in the Congress, where he was one of the leading environmental congressmen, authored the Super Fund Cleanup legislation, had a great environmental record as a governor, was unable to define himself because he only spend $2 million, as compared to Corzine’s nearly $40 million. Florio had the endorsement of every single major newspaper in New Jersey — the Newark Star and Ledger, the Bergen Record, The Trentonian plus the Philadelphia Inquirer, which circulates heavily in South Jersey, and the New York Times. Corzine got a terrible press in the print press of New Jersey, but yet he bought it all on television. He was able to define Florio with a negative, vicious, negative attack ad campaign, and Florio was unable to respond. That’s how Corzine won.

AMY GOODMAN:

Doug Ireland is with us, who has reported for years for The Village Voice. He writes columns for In These Times and also has done series on races around the country now for The Nation magazine. The New York Times had a headline, Doug, today, “Victor Spent $35 Million Running Unabashedly as a Liberal.” Let’s talk about what Corzine stands for.

DOUG IRELAND:

Well, I’ll tell you, I talked to Jon Corzine right after he got into this race, and he was talking like a DLCer, like a center-right new Democrat. By the time Bob Shrum, his major political and media consultant who also did the race for Al Checchi, the head of Northwest Airlines out in California, which had set a previous primary spending record, got a hold of him and programmed him. You’d think he was the most progressive thing since sliced bread.

But, in fact, when Corzine was let off the leash, the real Corzine came out. For example he gave an interview to the New Jersey Reporter, which is a bimonthly policy magazine, a very good one, too, in which he said he wasn’t — he was against unions. He told a reporter who asked him about the enormous profits that Goldman Sachs, the company that Corzine used to head, had made from the gun manufacturers, and he called the gun manufacturers responsible corporate citizens and said their arms sales to every tin-pot dictator around the world were simply good business practice.

He was caught making ethnic slurs against Italians and Jews, which got him denounced in the editorial pages of most of the New Jersey papers. As you pointed out in your lead-in, he spent $200,000 to hire private detectives to gumshoe Jim Florio and dig up dirt on him. An interesting footnote to that is that the private detective firm he headed was the firm headed by — that he hired, was headed by Jim Mintz who was the guy that Brown & Williamson, the tobacco giant, hired to destroy Jeffrey Wigand, the whistleblower. That’s the case that’s been made famous now by a movie. So the real Jon Corzine is probably not the one that the voters nominated.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And if he were to be elected, obviously, as senator, one of the big issues he would be dealing with would be Social Security. Did he make any pronouncements on his views on Social Security?

DOUG IRELAND:

Well, he had, early on, said that he was for privatizing Social Security and investing a lot of Social Security payments in the stock market. He somewhat pulled back from that and then said he believes only from the Clinton plan, but that still would put a huge amount of Social Security money into the stock market. He campaigned as if he were a protector of Social Security, but given where he comes from and what he said before his consultants got a hold of him, it’s unclear exactly where he’s going to come down on that issue.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And the vote is now in New Jersey left obviously between Corzine, the Republican candidate who emerged in a field of four.

DOUG IRELAND:

Congressman Bob Franks.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And are there any independent —

DOUG IRELAND:

There’s some squeak through there from the latest returns, although Gormally, the closest contender, has not yet conceded, because it’s razor thin.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Are there any major independents in the New Jersey Senate race?

DOUG IRELAND:

Not that — well, that’s unclear at the moment. Bob Grant, who is a rightwing talk show shock jock, had been planning an independent Senate candidacy as a conservative, ultra-conservative. He’s also a well-known racist who was fired from one radio station in New York City for racist comments. He had been firm in his intention to run if State Senator Bill Gormally been the candidate of the Republican Party. It’s less clear now whether he’s going to get into the race now that Franks is the nominee. If he does, that makes it a lot tougher, of course, for the Republican candidate to win, but since it’s Franks, not Gormally, we don’t know yet exactly whether Bob Grant is going to run or not.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Doug Ireland, we want to thank you for being with us, as you summarize what’s going on in New Jersey.

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