It’s unlikely that the decision by a non-profit aligned with Gov. Phil Murphy to renege on a vow to disclose its donors at the end of 2018 will leave the public eye.
Since the New Jersey Globe first reported the decision by New Direction New Jersey to keep its donors secret on Dec. 28, Senate President Steve Sweeney has put the burden of disclosure at the governor’s feet, and Politico New Jersey’s Playbook is keeping a tally of days since the group broke its self-imposed deadline.
“You run the risk of waking up the public with this kind of thing. It’s certainly playing cat and mouse with insiders who don’t let up — who aren’t going to let up,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute. “It’s a mistake to think that this will blow over. It’s a mistake to think this will be a one-day story. It will not. It will continue to be a story until the truth comes out.”
While it’s not clear what led to the reversal, the group, a 501(c)(4) non-profit formed by former Murphy campaign aides Brendan Gill, Steve DeMicco and Brad Lawrence and is not required by law to disclose its donors, appears to have decided it prefers to weather attacks over the reversal from the press and the governor’s opponents than reveal who’s funding its pro-Murphy ads.
Rasmussen pointed to a number of possible reasons for that decision, including pushback from donors and — though he considered it extremely unlikely — some sort of impropriety.
“It would be cynical to think that any of those folks who are part of the democratic establishment of the state and have been part of the governor’s circle — it would be very cynical to think that they would deliberately ignore the governor’s wishes on this, that they would say, ‘The governor’s wrong. We’re just not doing this,’” Rasmussen said.
Murphy is legally barred from coordinating with the non-profit, including on decisions related to donor disclosure.
In May, he said he expected New Direction New Jersey to release a list of its donors but stopped short of calling for them to do so.
“I take them at their word. I’m sure they will. I’m not sure the timing, but I’m sure they will. I don’t want to speak for them,” Murphy said at the time.
The governor’s opponents have already begun to seize on the issue.
After Sweeney made his statements regarding the non-disclosure on Wednesday, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-River-Vale) attacked Murphy over the same.
“New Direction New Jersey’s decision to hide its donors and keep its funding dark because they are under attack by special interest groups is like the pot calling the kettle black,” Schepisi said. “The irony of the governor’s calls for constant transparency is the thread of secrecy running through everything this governor is related to; whether he directly controls it or not.
Despite those censures, the public has not yet caught on to the issue, but there’s reason to believe they will if the attacks keep coming.
In 2016, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop came under fire for accepting a $1 million that was later revealed to have come from Vivak Garipalli, a healthcare entrepreneur that Fulop once tried to award a very profitable ambulance contract to.
Stories about that donation made it to the mainstream press, and the matter was eventually brought to court.
“The longer it goes, the more you run the risk of attracting more people to this story,” Rasmussen said.