In 2011, special interest groups spent $1.8 million during the entire legislative elections in the Garden State. A new report released Tuesday by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission revealed independent groups have already spent more than triple that amount ($6.3 million) on this year’s Assembly-only races.

(AP Photo/The Advocate Messenger, Clay Jackson, File)

The head of ELEC said that was not good for transparency.

“The public really has a right to know who is contributing to these groups,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle. “Many of them don’t have to disclose under the laws at this point in the State of New Jersey and it’s really changing the dynamic of the election campaigns.”

The General Majority PAC has spent more than $2 million dollars, but Brindle said that that independent group voluntarily disclosed how much it has spent and how much has been contributed.

The last time assembly candidates were alone in the ticket was 1999 and there was zero independent spending, but the amount they’ve spent so far this year represents about 45 percent of all spending. The political landscape is shifting in the Garden State.

“These independent groups are really kind of taking over a lot of the functions of the political parties. It used to be where the candidates themselves and the political parties would be the major players in these elections,” Brindle explained.

The current spending figures indicate that this year is going to set a record for special interest group spending. Most of the spending has been focused on the only three races that experts said are arguably competitive. Those include the 1st District in Cape May and parts of Atlantic and Cumberland Counties, the 2nd District in Atlantic County and the 38th District in parts of Bergen and Passaic Counties.

One political expert predicted special interest group spending this year will be nothing compared to what we will see in the very near future.

“Right now in New Jersey this is really the tip of the iceberg,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “Wait until 2017 if these laws are not changed because we’ll be seeing such an enormous of this non-transparent money”

The governor’s office and all 120 seats in the Legislature will be up for grabs in the 2017 elections.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter at @kevinmcardle1.