NPR affiliate WNYC ran a story on Thursday that looks at what the Wikileaks emails reveal about Democrat Phil Murphy and how he used his non-profit organization to put himself and his issues in front of voters before formally entering a race.
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and one-time ambassador to Germany, co-founded New Start New Jersey in 2014. The organization is a 501(c)(4), which is a tax-exempt non-profit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors. These non-profits are supposed to be social welfare organizations, but are allowed to engage in political activity if it is not their primary function.
Murphy claimed in 2014 and 2015 that the organization was exclusively an issue-oriented organization. But in a March 2014 email leaked by Wikileaks, Murphy described his political ambitions as “very serious but not yet committed” and said he would form a 501(c)(4) to boost his name recognition and qualifications for a possible campaign to replace Governor Chris Christie.
“Just to let you know, our New Jersey political deliberations continue, quietly and intently,” Murphy said in a message. “As there is no sense as to when the election will be (impeached? Resign to run for president? Neither?), we are likely to establish a policy-oriented c4 aimed at growing the NJ economy from $500 to $600 billion in 5 years. We are hoping that a platform like this will give us visibility, credentials, etc.”
A spokesman for Murphy’s campaign did not answer WNYC’s questions about his involvement with New Start New Jersey or the Wikileaks emails. According to New Start New Jersey’s IRS form 990 from April 21, 2014 to June 30, 2014, the organization’s revenue was $317,370. More than $150,000 went to “strategic planning and communication services” and $84,000 was spent on “issue-based public opinion research.”
Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli criticized Murphy on Thursday and claimed that if he is elected, he would be transparent and take the state in a different direction.
“The revelation from WikiLeaks that Phil Murphy was effectively using his tax-exempt non-profit group as a front to launch his gubernatorial campaign was the worst kept secret in New Jersey politics. Frankly, it was embarrassing last year watching him hire political operatives and run a full-fledged cable advertising campaign, all the while trying to convince people it had nothing to do with him running for governor,” Ciattarelli said. “I chose not to go this direction because the only way to commence a campaign for governor is by being honest and completely transparent with people. Anything short of that for any gubernatorial candidate sends exactly the wrong message at the worst possible time, particularly here in New Jersey.”