Democratic powerbroker George Norcross has a call most Fridays at 8 AM with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald that includes a discussion of legislative issues and politics.
The existence of the call is no secret – it was first reported by the Observer in 2017 – but it’s existence is relevant because of recent revelations that Gov. Phil Murphy’s top staffers have a weekly call with political advisors nicknamed the Inside/Outside call.
The call Sweeney and Greenwald are on is smaller in size, but not in power. Some participants are regulars. Others are invited as needed, usually by e-mail from Norcross’ office.
Almost always on the call is Kevin O’Dowd, a former chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie and now the CEO of Cooper University Health Care. Norcross’ brother, Phil, the head of a politically influential law firm, joins in from time to time. So is Bill Tambussi, Norcross’ attorney.
The South Jersey call, several sources confirmed, does not include any Sweeney or Greenwald staffers paid for the by taxpayers.
Sources familiar with the call describe it as a review of what’s going on in the state. It was described as proactive, rather than reactive.
Sweeney and Greenwald are key components to a South Jersey political operation that has been in power since a Camden County Democratic civil war 40 years ago in a campaign Norcross helped run.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin doesn’t have a regular weekly call between staffers and outside advisors, although his team does meet from time to time.
Murphy defended the concept of calls between senior staff and consultants on Tuesday, saying that “this is a very typical thing.”
“The important point is government decisions are made by those in government, period, and there’s no exception to that,” Murphy said.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg sent a letter to Murphy’s chief of staff and chief counsel on Wednesday asking, among other things, if the administration constructed a firewall between information discussed on the Inside/Outside calls and the business interests of outside clients represented by the consultants.
“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 said.
The Majority Leader also cited an executive order and a section of the state ethics code mandating that governors not disclose information not available to the public.
The language mirrors the Legislative Code of Ethics, which says that “no member of the Legislature shall willfully disclose to any person, whether or not for pecuniary gain, any information not generally available to members of the public which he receives or acquires in the course of and by reason of his official duties.”