The executive director of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission says that Inside/Outside calls between top aides to Gov. Phil Murphy and outside political advisors don’t present any conflicts with state ethics laws.
“It is the Commission staff’s opinion that this provision similarly allows State employees in the Executive Branch to disclose information not generally available to the public when it is done for the legitimate purpose of performing their official State duties,” Mark Holmes wrote in a memorandum today to Heather Taylor, the chief ethics officer in the Office of the Governor, obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
The opinion came one day after Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg questioned whether the Inside/Outside calls violated an executive order and a section of the state ethics code mandating that governors not disclose information not available to the public.
“A State employee in the executive branch would not violate section II,¶6 of the UEC if he or she provides information not generally available to the public to a person outside of government if the disclosure is made to assist the State employee in performing his or her official duties,” Holmes said. “In other words, the disclosure is being made for the benefit of the State.”
Homes still cautioned Murphy’s staff to take steps to ensure that confidential information be passed on to someone who might benefit from it.
“Of course, State employees who disclose confidential information to persons outside of State government in the course of conducting their official duties should take care not to provide such information in a manner which would provide an unwarranted benefit to the recipient of the information or the appearance of providing such a benefit.,” Holmes explained.
Weinberg has also asked if the Murphy administration constructed a firewall between information discussed on the Inside/Outside calls and the business interests of outside clients represented by the consultants. If they did, Weinberg wants top to know how it is being maintained and implemented.
According to Holmes, the State Ethics Commission lacks jurisdiction to interpret or enforce the Code of Conduct that applies to the Governor and his staff.Heather Taylor memo 7-18-19 (1)
Weinberg Helmy, Platkin Letter July 17, 2019 (2)