WASHINGTON -- The campaign manager for Christine Todd Whitman's successful race for governor in New Jersey said yesterday that the campaign paid money to black ministers who agreed not to rally their flock to vote for Gov. James J. Florio.
Edward J. Rollins, who managed the campaign of Mrs. Whitman, said the campaign funneled about $500,000 in such "walking around money." He said those efforts to depress the urban vote were important in the Republican's narrow victory in a state where the black urban vote is usually Democratic and often pivotal.
"We went into black churches and we basically said to ministers who had endorsed Florio, 'Do you have a special project?' And they said, 'We've already endorsed Florio,' " Mr. Rollins told reporters at a breakfast meeting.
"We said, 'That's fine. Don't get up on the pulpit Sunday and say it's your moral obligation that you go on Tuesday to vote for Jim Florio.' "
In New Jersey, so-called street money is supposed to be used to cover Election Day expenses to get out the vote, such as bus fare, cab fare and lunch for poll workers. It is not regulated and has long been considered a gray area.
But Mr. Rollins said that the Republicans decided to take the opposite tack and pay Florio supporters to refrain from any effort to get the vote out.
In an interview last night, Mr. Rollins insisted that the campaign did nothing wrong, and said it was simply more aggressive than Republicans have been in the past at targeting the churches.
"We weren't buying ministers or anything like that," he said. "We had an ongoing outreach program."
He added: "The ministers obviously play a very critical role in the black community, and we attempted to neutralize them. We basically had a dialogue with them."
Mr. Rollins was a political director in the Reagan White House and served briefly as co-chairman of Ross Perot's unsuccessful presidential campaign last year.
He said the campaign used the tactic "in the areas we couldn't obviously make up."
Mr. Rollins also said the campaign paid some Democratic political workers to stay home on Election Day. "We said to some of their key workers, 'How much have they paid you to do your normal duty?' " he said. " 'Well, we'll match it, go home, sit and watch television.' "
A Florio spokesman, Jon Shure, said the administration learned of the payments only yesterday and did not hear about them during the campaign.
"If it's true, it's scary," Mr. Shure said. "That anyone in the 1990s in America would have a strategy based on stopping people from voting is incredible."