Two months after receiving a pardon from former President Donald Trump on three federal tax-related convictions, Republican power broker George Gilmore is aiding a far-right candidate seeking the GOP nomination for governor, according to a video posted online.
“We are certainly blessed to have the power of George Gilmore in the corner getting Phil over that finish line so he can get to the matching funds and take Jack Ciattarelli to task,” conservative radio host Bill Spadea said during a March 25 event he emceed for Phil Rizzo at the Trump National Golf Club in Colts Neck.
The camera then briefly pans to Gilmore, the former Ocean County Republican chair, sitting in the corner.
Ciattarelli, a former member of the General Assembly, has won organizational support throughout the state and is heavily favored to be the GOP nominee against Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy in November.
Rizzo is one of several long-shot Republicans also vying for the nomination, though he appears to have the support of some pro-Trump activists who are wary of Ciattarelli, who during the 2016 presidential election was critical of the former president.
The fundraiser video was posted online Billy Prempeh, a Republican congressional candidate in a deeply Democratic North Jersey district who made news in the lead-up to the 2020 election over his support for QAnon conspiracy theories.
Spadea‘s comments about “matching funds” was a reference to New Jersey’s public financing program, in which gubernatorial candidates who raise $490,000 through individual contributions of up to $4,900 each can receive two-for-one matching funds in taxpayer money. Murphy and Ciattarelli are so far the only two candidates to qualify thus far. Candidates who qualify are limited to receiving $4.6 million in public funds in the primary and $10.5 million in the general election.
Gilmore for decades was one of the most powerful Republicans in New Jersey as chair of the party in deep red Ocean County. He alone held sway over who held elected office in Ocean County, and was a kingmaker for Republicans, playing an integral role in Chris Christie’s first election as governor in 2009 and helping Christie’s former lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, win the Republican gubernatorial nomination over Ciattarelli in 2017.
He resigned as party chair two years ago, shortly after he was convicted on one count of lying on a loan application and two counts of withholding federal taxes from his his law firm’s employees but not turning them over to the Internal Revenue Service.
In the early hours of Jan. 20, his last day in office, Trump pardoned Gilmore, one of 143 people to whom he granted clemency.
“Mr. Gilmore has made important civic contributions over his career in New Jersey,” an administration press release said at the time. Gilmore has close ties to Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien. When Stepien’s career was in tatters over his involvement in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal, GOPAC — a Republican PAC for which Gilmore served on the board of directors — put him on retainer for $6,000 a month.
Gilmore never really got out of New Jersey politics. He backed a rival candidate to succeed him as Ocean County GOP chair over Frank Holman III, the eventual winner, and later set up a rival political action committee to Holman’s fundraising operation. Most recently, Gilmore unsuccessfully fought a Holman-backed effort to strip the Toms River Republican Club, which Gilmore controls, of its influence in county politics.
Neither Gilmore nor Rizzo responded to phone calls and text messages seeking comment.
Rizzo, who lives in Harding, Morris County, and runs City Baptist Church in Hoboken, has so far focused his campaign on targeting Murphy’s actions in dealing with the pandemic.
Rizzo lost his right arm in a childhood accident, something he often mentions when talking about overcoming adversity.
On Twitter, Rizzo has alleged the pandemic is a “social experiment” and falsely claimed masks have been “proven to make you sick.” He’s also aired vague false claims suggesting the 2020 presidential election was stolen and promoted a conspiracy theory that left-wing activists were responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
A campaign ad posted to his website prominently features the owners of the Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, whose co-owner has clashed with the Murphy administration because he refused to close his gym during the governor’s lockdown orders, and who has encouraged people not to get vaccinated.
Though Ciattarelli is the heavy favorite to win the Republican nomination, a primary rival qualifying for matching funds could force him to train some of his focus on the primary election instead of Murphy. Ciattarelli’s path to the nomination was all but cleared in January when his main rival, former GOP State Chair Doug Steinhardt, dropped out.