- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Interest groups, companies and unions tripled their spending in New Jersey last year on TV ads, direct mail and other forms of communication but cut back on spending for lunches, gifts and other goodies for the lawmakers they were trying to influence, according to a report released Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

In all, groups spent $60.2 million lobbying, up by more than $2 million from 2012 but below the spending levels in 2010 and 2011.

Lobbying is driven largely by what issues are up for debate in the Legislature. Last year, New Jersey lawmakers wrestled with raising the minimum wage - a move approved by voters in a ballot question; several gun control bills, including some aggressive ones vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie, and a proposed new tax on hospitals that was ultimately scrapped.

Hospitals spent $4.5 million, more than any other group but barely ahead of unions, which spent $4.4 million.

Spending on communications hit $6 million, about three times as much as 2012 but less than previous years.

The entity that spent the most on communications was the New Jersey Education Association at $3.3 million. The conservative Americans For Prosperity, a newcomer to the top 10 in spending, was a distant second, at $950,000.

The lobbying firm that brought in the most money in the state was Princeton Public Affairs Group, which was paid $9.4 million for New Jersey lobbying.

Including fees from a lobbying subsidiary, the law firm Wolff and Samson brought in just over $1 million, enough to place it in the top 10. One of the firm’s partners is former state Attorney General David Samson, who is chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a central figure in scandals surrounding the administration of Gov. Chris Christie.