Cory Booker has seemed to be cruising to victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey. But on the eve of the election, the Newark mayor is facing questions over his personal finances and his stake in an Internet video company.
Last week, The New York Times reported on Booker's involvement with Waywire, a startup he helped launch. Then Saturday, The New York Post revealed that Booker—the heavy frontrunner to replace the late Frank Lautenberg in the Senate—has continued to receive payments from his former law firm while serving as mayor.
In an interview with NBC News’ Kasie Hunt, Booker defended his campaign’s disclosures, and said he’s been transparent in his finances and his involvement with Waywire.
"I do believe we have met requirements for disclosure and transparency and we've gone above and beyond what most of the—all of the candidates in this race have submitted to in terms of disclosure," Booker told NBC News.
"I believed in an idea and thought it was great, helped get a business off the ground, which is an experience politicians often don't have. And a lot of people found that interesting and invested in that idea," Booker said of the internet video company. Booker said that if elected to the Senate, he will step down from the company’s board.
"This is a company that other people are running; I've been focused on being mayor for the last year,” Booker told Hunt.
The Newark mayor has raised more than $1.7 million for the company, tapping his connections with Silicon Valley executives, including Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Oprah Winfrey, who has hosted a fundraiser for Booker. While the investment has been public for over a year, Booker amended his federal financial disclosure forms last month to show that his stake in Waywire is now worth between $1 million and $5 million. Booker amended his forms with the city of Newark last Tuesday, a day before the Times story was published.
The revelations are nothing new to some Garden State political observers, who have long said the public persona Booker projects in the media doesn’t match the private one they see up close, and who charge that his success at turning Newark around has been overblown.
Nonetheless, Booker has consistently led his Democratic rivals—Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, and Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver—by nearly 40 points in recent public polling. And he's been a fundraising force throughout the campaign.
Several of those rivals have expressed frustration with the shortened, two-month election cycle set out after Lautenberg's death by Gov. Chris Christie, which has given them little time to damage Booker. Christie, a Republican, and Booker have a close relationship.
Aware that frontal attacks could backfire in a multi-party field, some opponents have lightly jabbed at Booker for his celebrity or his tenure as mayor. But the knocks have been soft, and ultimately ineffective.
“He’s just kind of running out the clock,” complained one Democratic strategist working for another candidate in the race. “Cory is not what people thought he was. He’s definitely more involved in the financial stuff than people realized.”
Still, eleventh-hour stories have given his opponents, fighting for attention and votes on Tuesday, some late ammunition.
On Monday’s The Daily Rundown, Oliver said Booker still owed the public answers on his personal finances.
“I would be concerned about his lack of disclosure concerning his investment in Waywire, and I would want to question him about what we all read in The New York Post on Saturday,” said Oliver, who’s lagged in fourth place in the race.
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said the latest stories raise new questions for Booker, but it’s still too little too late, and in what’s expected to be a low-turnout election on Tuesday, voters are likely to give Booker the benefit of the doubt.
“The question isn’t settled about whether this is just politics as usual in New Jersey—combining business and politics is nothing new—or whether there is something more sinister,” said the New Jersey pollster.
If Booker does win, as expected, it may not even give Republicans much of an opening in the Democratic state. The expected GOP nominee, Steve Lonegan, has had his own problems last week, and is under fire for a racially offensive tweet sent by his campaign.
“It brings [Booker] down to earth, and it makes him much more of a typical politcian,” said Murray. “That’s certainly not going to hurt him in being victorious in November, but it takes some of the shine off.”
NBC's Kasie Hunt contributed to this report.