Murphy broadens disclosure on governor’s gifts from new friends
If Gov. Phil Murphy accepts gifts from Middle East kings or NFL team owners, like his predecessor did, the public will find out the details. (Unless he’s known them a long time.)
On his first full day in office, and in his second executive order, Gov. Phil Murphy made changes to the Governor’s Code of Conduct to require disclosure of expensive gifts from friends a governor makes during his or her time as a candidate or in office.
New Jersey has had a code of conduct specifically for the governor since 2003, when then-Gov. James McGreevey agreed to one recommended by an advisory panel following questions about a trip to Puerto Rico that was initially paid for a labor union, one year after a state-funded family reunion in an official trip to Ireland.
The code of conduct has been tweaked and kept in the place by each governor since. The most meaningful change to it made by Gov. Phil Murphy is a new rule for gifts – disclosure of anything valued at $390 or more, unless they’re from a personal friend he knew before 2015.
“A very bright line distinction between pre-existing relationships and folks that we’ve met in a political context,” Murphy said. “And that’s a bright line that we feel strongly about.”
In his term, former Gov. Chris Christie was criticized for airfare, lodging and tickets he accepted without disclosure from the king of Jordan and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He met both as governor and said the gifts were appropriate because they were each personal friends.
Murphy’s executive order says gifts from relatives and “long-time personal friends” he has known since before Jan. 16, 2015, three years before his inauguration.
“If we were friends with you before then, long before we declared, that’s what we’re going to refer to as a preexisting relationship,” Murphy said. “… Anybody we’ve met since then is going to be subject to complete disclosure above the threshold of whatever the gift levels are.”
That threshold is now $390, borrowed from federal Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act. It was set at $313 in 2010 and $285 in 2003. Gifts valued below that are considered to be of minimal value and can be accepted by a governor.
Murphy’s executive order also differs from those his predecessors issued on the subject by adding a new category, home hospitality, to the list of things that can be accepted, along with gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses.
It says home hospitality “consists of gifts of hospitality including food, drink, or occasional lodging that the Governor may receive in an individual’s home when the individual or a member of that individual’s family is present.”