- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

NEW YORK If there is one image that underlines the central issue of the U.S. Senate race in New Jersey, it is the sight of a small but vocal group of rain-soaked protesters marching in front of the Goldman, Sachs and Co. offices to demand the release of Jon S. Corzine's income tax returns.

Mr. Corzine, 53, Democratic candidate and former co-chairman of the prestigious investment firm, has steadfastly refused to make public the details of his tax filings. Such disclosure, he maintains, would violate a confidentiality agreement he signed with his old employer. These returns, which presumably would detail his personal wealth, have become the rallying cry for supporters of Rep. Bob Franks, the Republican candidate who opposes him.

"Is there something he's trying to hide?" asked Peter DeMarco, spokesman for the Franks campaign. "The question comes down to who does Jon Corzine think he is?"

Mr. Corzine's wealth is the touchstone of this race. So far, he has spent $50 million on the campaign, and, according to the Associated Press, the former Wall Street executive contracted to spend $12 million in ads at six major television stations in New York and Philadelphia in the nine weeks before Election Day. During the Olympic Games alone, he bought $5 million worth of ads to run in these markets during NBC's coverage of the event, many of them assailing Mr. Franks' voting record on health issues in Congress. Mr. Franks has raised $2 million, Mr. DeMarco said.

In June, Mr. Corzine set a record for spending in a nonpresidential primary election by lavishing $35 million on his campaign. While some observers argued that his rich habits would backfire, the political neophyte managed to defeat a veteran Democrat, former Gov. Jim Florio.

But the backlash argument is being made again by supporters of Mr. Franks, a four-term congressman who has had no television ads and is woefully underfinanced in comparison with his opponent. He has relied on free media primarily the metropolitan newspapers to get out the message he delivers at news conferences and visits to local schools and diners.

Virtually no commercial television station covers elections in New Jersey. Most voters get their news from the commercial New York and Philadelphia stations, which give scant attention to the New Jersey races. As a result, candidates must purchase costly ad slots on these out-of-state stations if they are to be seen.

Mr. Corzine, a liberal who is reported to have a personal fortune of $400 million, makes no apologies for his wealth. "The voters of New Jersey will make their minds up on the basis of the issues, not the amount of money spent to get the message out," said his campaign spokesman, Tom Shea.

The low-key Mr. Franks, 49, a Republican centrist who was a former assemblyman and two-time state Republican chairman, is better known to party insiders than the electorate. He is popular in his constituency, New Jersey's 7th Congressional District west of Newark, but largely unknown in northern sections of the state.

In the latest Star-Ledger/ Eagleton-Rutgers poll, Mr. Corzine leads the congressman 45 percent to 36 percent among likely voters. Among registered voters, the poll found that the former finance tycoon leads 47 percent to 32 percent. However, the large block of undecided voters in both categories could indicate that the investment banker's expensive wall-to-wall campaign ads have not had the desired effect yet.

"It has seeped through the culture that this guy is spending a lot of money," said Cliff Zukin, poll director and a professor of public policy at Rutgers University. Pointing to the undecided block, he noted that New Jersey voters had made up their minds about the presidential election, but not the Senate race.

"There are clearly some reservations about Corzine," he added.

A series of missteps have dogged the Corzine challenge, most notably his evasive and sometimes testy responses to inquiries about his family's private foundation. Under pressure from Mr. Franks to make public the contributions made by the foundation, Mr. Corzine released a list of $10 million in gifts he made in 1999 and 2000. A total of $100,000 went to groups whose leaders or sponsors later endorsed his candidacy. A church in Orange, N.J., headed by the director of the influential Black Ministers Council, received $25,000.

Both candidates have agreed to three debates to be televised this month. They are expected to focus their remarks on health care, education, Social Security and the environment.

"The big remaining question is can Franks drive home what Corzine is spending," said Mr. Zukin.

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