Op-Ed: Press Corps Shouldn’t Ignore Murphy’s Conflict Of Interest

Mike Lilley | July 24, 2019 | Opinion
The NJEA was a major funder for the ‘dark money’ group that is pushing governor’s millionaires tax

Mike Lilley
Earlier this year, the Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey shined a light on the controversial “dark money” political-action group New Direction New Jersey. NDNJ is run by the same political operatives who ran Gov. Phil Murphy’s election campaign and advocates for the governor’s agenda — particularly the millionaires tax.

SPCNJ revealed that the New Jersey Education Association was the source of at least $2.5 million in funding for NDNJ. This was a significant victory for transparency in New Jersey’s political system because NDNJ had reneged on its promise to disclose its donors.

Since then, NDNJ has launched an extensive, million-dollar media campaign featuring the governor, promoting a millionaires tax, and attacking Democratic legislators for leaving the tax out of the fiscal year 2020 budget.

While these aggressive tactics have gained a great deal of press, the coverage has consistently left out the important fact that the state’s most powerful special interest, the NJEA, is the money behind NDNJ. This is a significant omission because it ignores a critical issue: the governor’s conflict of interest due to his leading role in NDNJ’s media campaign.

The facts are damning. It is well-known that the NJEA strongly supported Gov. Murphy’s election campaign, and that NJEA leaders played significant roles in both his transition team and his administration. Indeed, a former NJEA political operative is currently a deputy chief of staff for the governor.

Part of NJEA’s ‘political apparatus’

It is also well-known that one of the NJEA’s top political priorities has long been the expansion of the millionaires tax, which is NDNJ’s main policy issue. So the facts are that NDNJ is funded by the NJEA and is pushing the NJEA’s agenda. By all appearances, NDNJ is a piece of the NJEA’s political apparatus.

This creates a conflict of interest: A special interest that supported the governor’s election secretly funds a political advocacy group that pushes that special interest’s agenda. The governor then plays the leading role in TV ads advocating for the special interest’s agenda using the very same language the special interest uses.

At the very least, this creates the perception that the governor is working on behalf of the special interest, not the people of New Jersey who elected him. This harms New Jersey by fulfilling all the worst characterizations of New Jersey politics and undermining public faith in our state government.

No wonder they all wanted to keep the NJEA’s funding a secret!

The press must help bring transparency to these deliberately opaque activities. New Jersey citizens need to be informed of the profound influence of special interests on our state’s political system. The conflict of interest generated by our governor’s role with NDNJ should be broadly understood by the electorate. So every time New Direction New Jersey is mentioned in the press, readers need to know that it is NJEA-funded.

The governor has famously asked of his fellow Democrats “Whose side are you on?” Given the governor’s role with the NJEA-funded NDNJ, New Jersey citizens should be informed enough to ask the governor the same question.