Lobbyist spending soared to a record $73 million in 2011 according to Jeff Brindle, Executive Director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). The largest spender was New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).

Most of its $11.3 million spending went to communications. The union, which represents 195,501 active and retired school employees in New Jersey, spent $6.6 million in 2010 on communications. NJEA's total and communications spending both are new records for annual lobbying outlays by one group.

The total spending represents an 11.2 percent increase over the 2010 total of nearly $66 million. This marks the fourth straight year that total expenditures by lobbyists were up.

"The 21st Century certainly has arrived for lobbyists in New Jersey,'' says Brindle. "Lobbyists are depending more and more on mass media communications in their effort to influence public policy…… While traditional lobbying still is a mainstay of professional lobbyists, more lobbyists are turning to new media and issue advocacy to achieve the outcomes they seek.''

The NJEA tops the lobbyist spending list with a total of almost $11.3 million and that's over $10 million more than number-two on the list, Verizon New Jersey.

Governor Christie and the NJEA are long time arch rivals. He was asked about the lobbying report yesterday. The Governor said, "They're collecting $100 million-plus a year (in union dues). Why don't they put some of that money towards teachers' health benefits? Why don't they put some of that money towards enhanced merit pay for teachers? Why don't they put that towards enhanced teachers' pensions? Instead, all they do is use it as a political slush fund to help their friends and to try to intimidate their enemies. I can't say I'm the least bit surprised about it. It is their standard operating procedure."

Extended Governor Christie audio:

The NJEA did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The increase in lobbying spending in New Jersey came during a year in which federal lobbying expenditures fell for the first time in a decade. Federal lobbying expenditures fell 6.8 percent last year to $3.27 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

While most lobbying expenses were on the rise, one continued to fall- the amount spent on "benefit passing." Last year, lobbyists spent just $5,687 on food and other benefits, and they were reimbursed for $1,208. Benefit passing in New Jersey peaked in 1992 at $163,375 and has been on a steady decline ever since.

Lobbying in some other major states also set new records. Lobbyists spent $345 million in Texas, $287 million in California, and $127 million in Florida- all new highs.