Republican State Chairman Douglas Steinhardt says the state should investigate whether side-payments made to top campaign staffers for Gov. Phil Murphy violated New Jersey campaign finance laws.
Brendan Gill, who was Murphy’s campaign manager, received an additional $61,400 from the Democratic Governors Association during the 2017 general election, according to year-end reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The campaign finance director, Joseph Kelley, made $55,400 in direct payments from the DGA.
“A general review of public campaign finance records suggest that Murphy for Governor campaign operatives were being paid by both the gubernatorial campaign committee and the Democratic Governors Association during the 2017 general election,” Steinhardt said in a statement released today. “Because Murphy for Governor was taking public matching funds, we believe that the Election Law Enforcement Commission should investigate whether such payments violate the restrictions that come with public funding.”
Murphy, who spent $16.3 million of his own money in the Democratic primary, chose to participate in the state’s public financing program for the general election. By voluntarily opting in, he agreed to a spending cap of $13.8 million, with the state providing a $2-to-$1 match to qualifying candidates.
A campaign finance expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says that by Gill and Kelley supplementing their campaign salaries with DGA consulting fees, it could be viewed as a deliberate attempt to reduce campaign overhead costs so that more funds could be used on voter contact. He said the side payments could give the appearance of an unfair advantage for Murphy, and a possible violation of state law. The DGA and the campaign are permitted to coordinate their efforts. Murphy received a total of $9.3 million from the state matching funds program.
The DGA cut monthly checks to consulting firms owned by the two staffers. Typically, campaign managers and finance directors get paid directly by the campaign.
According to reports filed with ELEC, Gill received $105,830 in direct payments by the Murphy for Governor campaign during the five-month general election period — $65,430 to Gill personally, and $41,400 to his consulting firm, The BGill Group.
Gill, the Essex County Freeholder president and Montclair Democratic municipal chairman, is now a political consultant. Kelley is Murphy’s deputy chief of staff.
The Governor’s office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.