Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg is questioning whether the Murphy administration violated any state laws or codes of conduct in holding Inside/Outside calls between gubernatorial staffers and outside political consultants and lobbyists.
“Professional lobbyists and consulting firms often have a range of clients with an array of policy objectives,” Weinberg said in a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy’s top aides obtained by by the New Jersey Globe. “Maintaining a clear line between special interests and government is vital and New Jersey residents know all too well what happens when that line is blurred.”
Weinberg cited an executive order and a section of the state ethics code mandating that governors not disclose information not available to the public.
“Statutes and codes of conduct make crucial distinctions between government and private interest consultants, groups or organizations,” Weinberg said.
Murphy on Tuesday acknowledged the existence of the Inside/Outside calls first reported by the Globe.
Weinberg has asked chief of staff George Helmy and chief counsel Matt Platkin to say if the administration vetted the outside consultants on the call. If they did, Weinberg wants to know the process.
The Bergen County senator, who has spent most of her career in pursuit of greater transparency in government, is also seeking to learn if outside political advisors with private clients are gaining access to “exclusive information about policies that are being considered or will be enacted.”
“Are outside political advisors shaping or determining policy decisions that will favor their clients?” Weinberg asked.
Weinberg has also requested to know 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 to to know how it is being maintained and implemented.
“As state representatives and state employees, our allegiance must first be with the people of our State,” said Weinberg. “Our very institution relies upon us to maintain and strengthen the integrity of our offices and therefore we must make abiding by our own statutes the highest priority.”
It is not immediately clear what confidential information Weinberg believes to have been transmitted. She did not cite specific examples.
Murphy defended the Inside/Outside meeting.
“This is a very typical thing, not just for New Jersey but something that happens. We solicit advice from people inside and outside of government all the time,” Murphy said at a press conference on an unrelated matter yesterday. “The important point is government decisions are made by those in government, period, and there’s no exception to that.”
Murphy’s former chief of staff, Peter Cammarano, told the Globe last week that he lost support from colleagues and the governor’s advisors because he opposed the existence of the weekly call between top staffers and outside consultants.
“I refused to participate in these calls. They are basically the outside consultants telling the inside Governor’s office what they are doing wrong. Of course, they have never governed and think it’s easy. They may give the worst advice I have ever heard,” said Cammarano. “My lack of participation or willingness to listen to them caused them to turn sour on me pretty early.”
At least a dozen Murphy aides are on the inside part of the call: Chief of Staff George Helmy; Chief Counsel Matt Platkin; Deputy Chiefs of Staff Joe Kelley, Justin Braz, Greg Petzold; and Deborah Cornavaca; Senior Advisor Dan Bryan; Communications Director Mahen Gunaratna; Chief Policy Advisor Kathleen Frangione; Press Secretary Alyana Alfaro Post; Senior Advisor Derrick Greene; and Stephanie Lagos, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff.
From the outside, there are at least five: Steve DeMicco and Brad Lawrence of Message & Media; Brendan Gill, Murphy’s former campaign manager; and Adam Alonso, the governor’s former Deputy Chief of Staff; and Jim McQueeeny, a lobbyist and former top aide to Frank Lautenberg. Prior to her departure earlier this month, Democratic State Committee Executive Director Liz Gilbert was also on the call.Weinberg Helmy, Platkin Letter July 17, 2019 (2)