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Senate President Steve Sweeney. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe.

Sweeney: Murphy non-profit should immediately disclose

Senate President expects NJEA to be funding group

By Nikita Biryukov, May 31 2018 1:38 pm

State Senate President Steven Sweeney said on Thursday that the non-profit created to push Gov. Phil Murphy’s agenda should release its donors immediately, guessing that the group was funded largely by Sweeney’s political opponents.

“That’s not right. They should release them right now. They’re running the ads now. They should be releasing their donors right now,” Sweeney said at a press conference on a new school funding bill Thursday. “And I’m willing to bet you, I’ll buy everyone dinner here, that the NJEA is one of their biggest supporters.”

New Direction New Jersey, a 501c4 non-profit group that was formed to support Murphy’s agenda by some of his top campaign aides, is starting to launch TV ads to that effect. A lawyer for the group, which is not legally required to disclose its donors, told the Globe in April the group would do so at the end of the year.

Brendan Gill, a senior advisor to the group and Murphy’s former campaign manager, told Politico last year that the group would disclose its donors without specifying a date. Months of silence followed the announcement.

Though he later walked the remarks back, Gill said in April that the group would air ads to pressure Democratic lawmakers to fall in line with Murphy’s agenda.

But Sweeney thinks the original remarks were spot on. The senate president said that the pitch for the group involve a promise to fight the legislature.

“The way Brendan Gill was selling this to people – because they were calling me – was Gov. Murphy needs to create this fund to fight the legislature,” Sweeney said. “That’s how he presented it to people, and I said, ‘fight the legislature? We’re democrats.’ Did he need to fight with me when we did pay equity?”

The group released a script for an upcoming ad Thursday. The ad, which appears to do little more than tout the administration’s early accomplishments, incensed some Democrats who predicted a more offense-oriented approach.

“As we’ve said from the beginning, New Direction was established to support policies that promote a stronger and fairer New Jersey,” Gill said in a statement sent out with the script. “And as one can see by reading this script, that is exactly what we are doing. In fact, this ad highlights policies that are the joint accomplishments of the administration and the legislature.”

But legislators’ reactions to the ad aren’t exactly surprising.

For one, the prospect of attacking hostile or reticent legislators – like Sweeney, in some cases – through the group could be enticing for his enemies. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) poured money – at least $5 million – into opposing Sweeney’s reelection last fall.

It’s reasonable to think that Murphy picking NJEA President Marie Blistan for his transition team did little to help the relationship between him and Sweeney.

And, while Sweeney may claim to be done with the teacher’s union, there’s little reason to think that the union is done with him

“The NJEA, we don’t speak much, I guess that’s the best way of characterizing it,” Sweeney said. “And honestly, Tom, I don’t care anymore.”

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