A seemingly benign TV ad promoting a minimum-wage hike in New Jersey has ballooned into a political controversy for Gov. Phil Murphy just as he tries to push his agenda through the Legislature.
The ad is by New Direction New Jersey, a so-called social welfare organization, known as a 501(c)4 after the IRS code. Such organizations can collect unlimited money to promote issues and don’t have to disclose their donors. They’re supposed to function independently of elected officials but — as is the case with New Direction — they’re often created and managed by people with close political ties.
The governor is forbidden by law from coordinating with New Direction and has no control over what it does, despite what it may look like. But, said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), “How do you say you’re separate from the 501(c)4 when you are appearing in the ads, when the ads solely are there for your agenda?”
Adding to the uproar is New Direction’s failure to deliver on a promise to divulge its donor list by the end of 2018.
Senate President Steve Sweeney complained about New Direction’s secret donor list last year. Just this week, Politico reported that the parent company of PSE&G tried to donate money to a 501(c)4 with close ties to Sweeney friend and political power broker George Norcross, after PSEG had won a big state subsidy for its nuclear operations.
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