How — and Why — Jersey City Lobbies Trenton

In a report released last month, the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) examined the use of public funds to lobby state government, finding that public entities — including the city of Jersey City — spent $3.87 million in lobbying the state during the 2006-07 legislative session. The report, which also found that public entities are not held to the same transparency standards as private companies, called for more oversight of this category of lobbying while not weighing in on whether or not New Jersey should follow the lead of five other states and ban government entities from retaining lobbyists.

“One of the potential issues with public entities spending significant money on lobbying firms is that other government officials may feel compelled to do the same to achieve an equal playing field in the competition for state dollars,” comptroller Matthew Boxer said in a statement. “You can end up with a financial escalation that ultimately is a race to the bottom for taxpayers.”

The report found that Jersey City “provided compensation to the principal of a lobbying firm by paying the individual as a salaried municipal employee.” That employee was former Morris County prosecutor and gubernatorial candidate Michael Murphy, a managing partner of Impact NJ. He was employed as a part-time assistant corporation counsel for government affairs from January 2005 until this year, when he resigned. His most recent salary was $47,154, according to city spokesperson Jennifer Morrill, who says that Murphy continues to lobby for the city on a pro bono basis.

According to Morrill, the city supports the “transparency and disclosure” recommendations in the OSC report, but maintains “it is absolutely necessary” for a municipality the size of Jersey City to have a lobbyist to fight for appropriations and work on legislation that will benefit the city both in Trenton and in Washington. She says that Murphy has fought successfully for “tens of millions in discretionary and formulaic grants and appropriations,” including closing a loophole in the city’s hotel tax and lobbying for the recently-passed pension deferral bill, “at a fraction of the advocacy costs incurred by other local governments.”

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.