- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey taxpayers have provided $3.6 million in public matching funds to Democratic and Republican candidates in this year’s contest to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie, state election officials said Thursday.

The money has been given to four candidates in this year’s primary election for governor, up from $2.8 million announced earlier this week, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Democrat Jim Johnson, a former official in President Bill Clinton’s administration, and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno have received the most money, at nearly $1.2 million each. Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski received about $663,000 and Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli got a roughly $651,000 disbursement, his first of the campaign.

The public will get a closer look at how the cash is being spent after campaign finance reports come out in several weeks.

The expenditures come as the June 6 primary approaches and with the first candidate debates on the horizon. Guadagno has topped polls in the Republican primary. The Democratic front-runner is Phil Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany in President Barack Obama’s administration, who did not qualify for public matching funds after announcing that he is financing his campaign with a $10 million personal loan.

The program dates to 1974 and allows candidates to get $2 in public cash for every $1 raised. Candidates must raise $430,000 to qualify for public cash. There’s a cap of $4 million and spending for candidates getting public money is limited to $6.4 million in the primary.

Matching funds are financed through donations from state income tax forms and through the general fund.

The candidates accepting public cash are required to participate in two debates. There will be two Democratic and two Republican debates. So far, one set of debates has been scheduled for May 9 at Stockton University in Galloway.

The second debate is sponsored by NJTV, but details have not been announced.

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