Murphy allies seek to boost his national profile with new groups, won't say if they'll disclose donors

Gov. Phil Murphy’s wife and a top administration staffer are launching two groups that suggest the governor has national political ambitions, but they won’t say whether one of the groups will disclose its donors.

The groups will be a political action committee and a nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, both called Stronger Fairer Forward — a slogan Murphy himself has used.

Though not officially connected to Murphy, the groups could hardly be run by people with closer connections to the governor. First lady Tammy Murphy, a prolific fundraiser, will chair the boards of both groups. Dan Bryan, the governor’s senior adviser for strategic communications, will leave the administration to become executive director of both groups. Murphy’s 2021 campaign manager, Mollie Binotto, will also serve on both boards, along with Kristen McMahon, a friend of the Murphys who leads a “reputation management” firm.

The nonprofit will “support policies that aim to strengthen and expand the middle class and provide opportunity for everyone,” according to a press release, which also said it will combat “the ongoing nationwide assault on election officials and state election laws.” The PAC will support candidates.

Context: The formation of the groups is a sign Murphy could be considering on a White House bid despite repeated denials of any presidential ambitions.

“I’m not running. I’m not running. Jesus, lord, help me,” Murphy told NJ Advance Media last month when asked if he was running for president.

Murphy won reelection by a narrower-than-expected 3 points in November and is term limited from seeking reelection in 2025. He’s in line to become chair of the National Governors Association later this year and to do a second stint as chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2023 — roles that could involve significant national travel.

“Phil and I have spent the past four years working tirelessly to make New Jersey a stronger and fairer place fairer place everyone,” Tammy Murphy said in a statement. “Though we’ve come far, there is still much work to be done.”

Fundraising: Political action committees are required to disclose their donors. However, 501(c)(4) organizations are not and can accept unlimited donations. A press release announcing the groups’ formation did not say whether the 501(c)(4) would disclose donors. Bryan, reached by phone, declined to comment.

This is not Murphy’s first venture into the world of political nonprofits. He started a think tank called New Start New Jersey, funded almost exclusively by him, that laid the groundwork for his 2017 gubernatorial campaign.

During Murphy’s first year in office in 2018, some of his top campaign staffers formed a nonprofit called New Direction New Jersey to promote the governor’s legislative agenda. The group at first refused to disclose its donors but eventually began releasing an annual list after months of pressure from the media. The bulk of its funding — more than $10 million — has come from a close and powerful ally, the New Jersey Education Association. The group’s annual voluntary financial disclosure is more limited than the legally-required disclosures PACs make.

Murphy signed a bill to require that “dark money” 501(c)(4)s disclose their donors, but only after vetoing an identical bill and facing an override threat in the Legislature. That law, however, was overturned in federal court.

Good government advocates have long raised concerns about the rise of nonprofit political organizations that do not disclose their donors. Those fears were born out in Ohio, where dark money non-profit allegedly channeled million of dollars in bribes to protect a nuclear power plant bailout.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-02-08 03:25:19 -0800