The gubernatorial campaign of former U.S. Undersecretary to the Treasury Jim Johnson on Thursday announced that a complaint was filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) against the frontrunner in the Democratic primary: former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy. In the complaint, Johnson alleges that Murphy set up and used non-profit organizations to prepare for his run for governor as a way to avoid registering/disclosing financial contributions to ELEC in the early stages of his campaign.
In a Thursday conference call with press, Johnson said that he decided to file the complaint because of the recent re-constitution of ELEC. Earlier this week, the commission met for the first time in a year after some long-standing vacancies were filled.
“New Jersey’s law is very, very clear. You have to file,” Johnson said.
In a statement discussing the filing, Johnson’s campaign said that Murphy was “illegally” using both New Start New Jersey and New Way for New Jersey “to avoid disclosing some contributors and expenditures that were for the sole purpose of supporting his candidacy.” In the statement, Johnson mentions TV ads and polling as examples of things that should have been disclosed.
Murphy spokeswoman Julie Roginsky issued a statement following the announcement of Johnson’s complaint claiming that there is “absolutely no merit” to the claims. Shortly thereafter, the Murphy campaign launched their own challenge to Johnson. In a statement issued on Thursday, Murphy’s campaign alleged that Johnson was involved in securing a $10 million no-bid contract for the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to “represent New York City in response to the federal investigation into allegations that the [Mayor Bill] de Blasio administration traded political favors for contributions.”
Johnson Communication Director Aleigha Cavalier said that Murphy’s counter to the ELEC filing was “a typical politician with a typical response.”
“Phil Murphy is trying to deflect by attacking Jim for actions taken by his law firm after he retired, which a simple Google search shows,” she said. According to the Debevoise & Plimpton website, Johnson left the firm in March 2016 “and has focused his efforts on social justice issues.” According to reports Debevoise & Plimpton started representing de Blasio in May 2016. However, a second press release from the Murphy campaign itemized a number of campaign contributions from Johnson that were received after March 2016 where he listed his occupation as “attorney” at Debevoise & Plimpton. According to FEC reports, one example of this is a June 19, 2016 contribution of $2,700 to congressional candidate Josh Gottheimer, now the congressman in New Jersey’s 5th district.
While Johnson told reporters his complaint was “deadly serious,” Roginsky in her statement said that it was a waste of taxpayer money.
“There is absolutely no merit to his complaint but there is lots of merit to the notion that he is wasting taxpayers’ money in forcing ELEC to look into allegations that he, as an attorney, knows don’t pass the laugh test,” Roginsky said.
The complaint made by Johnson is similar to one that Murphy himself filed last year. At that time—when it appeared Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s entry into the race was imminent—Murphy filed a ELEC complaint alleging that Fulop was using his mayoral account to run for governor and was bypassing ELEC regulations to do so. Fulop has since endorsed Murphy for governor.