Mike Lilley of the Sunlight Foundation of New Jersey raises an interesting point in a recent blog post: While Tom Moran wrote an excellent editorial lambasting Gov. Phil Murphy for conditionally vetoing a bill that would require non-profits to reveal funders (like New Direction New Jersey that exists solely to push the Governor’s agenda), the Star-Ledger editor “neglects to point out the FACT that in the case at hand – where Murphy appears in the TV ads of New Direction New Jersey – it is the NJEA who is funding the ads.”
Why is it important that writers for mass media note that NJEA is the source of the “dark money” behind New Direction New Jersey?
It’s not about thoroughness. It’s not about taking sides in the feud between Senate President Steve Sweeney, who wants to reform NJ’s broken pension system through sensible tweaks that would bring public workers’ medical care from “platinum” to “gold” level and move new teachers onto a defined contribution plan instead of a fiscally unsustainable defined benefits plan, and Murphy, who wants to raise taxes in a state where in 2018 twice as many people left as moved here. It’s not about the Legislature’s overwhelming approval of the bill (S 1500, sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton) that passed 33-0 in the Senate and 66-2 in the Assembly. It’s not about the Governor’s apparently baseless campaign pledge to bring “greater transparency” to government.
It’s not even about, as Murphy said himself, that he speaks to NJEA leaders “constantly,” and that he has “appeared in ads paid for by New Direction each of the last two years as he’s fought to raise new taxes in the state.”
The reason why journalists and politicians need to point out the Governor’s umbilical ties to NJEA leaders is because Murphy’s pandering to this special interest group is hurting our children.
Example: In his column Moran attributes Murphy’s tin-eared veto of S 1500, also known as the “dark money bill,” to his inexperience in government and history as a highly-placed executive at Goldman Sachs where no one questioned his decisions. That’s not how it works in government and if Murphy knew better he’d sit down with Senators Singleton and Sweeney and iron out a compromise. “Even as the governor bloviates about transparency and clean government,” writes Moran, “Murphy’s senior advisors…are raising huge sums of dark money to promote the governor’s agenda.” (Moran could have added that Murphy’s promise to name his donors at the end of 2018 now appears akin to Trump’s promise to release his tax returns upon election. He’s nicer than me.)
But Moran also left out the tidbit that New Direction is ( partially? entirely? who knows?) funded by NJEA to the tune of $2.5 million. And Senator Singleton didn’t mention NJEA in his editorial last week where he writes that his bill has become a “pawn in personal and political gamesmanship.” And David Wildstein of the New Jersey Globe doesn’t mention NJEA in his scoop that New Direction is running TV ads with footage that it bought from Murphy’s election campaign.
Everyone is so scared of NJEA.
And that fear hurts our kids.
How? This cowardice interferes with oversight of the Department of Education. (I’m still the only one reporting on the dissolution of the DOE.) This cowardice enables New Jersey’s unhealthy habits of, for example, sending busloads of cash to Lakewood to appease ultra-Orthodox leaders (who control voting) and allows Asbury Park Public Schools to continue to deprive students with disabilities of mandated services. This cowardice condones an Education Commissioner who believes that teachers “weaponize grades” and has a history of misallocating federal funds (see here and here).
So let’s call it what it is: An unaccountable group funded by NJEA is controlling Murphy’s agenda, as well as personnel and policy decisions at the DOE. That control deprives parents of objective information on student growth and school quality, interferes with public school choice primarily for low-income children through an interminable charter school “review,” apparently lost in the bowels of the DOE, and squanders our tax dollars.
Mike Lilley writes in one of his reports, “New Jersey’s status quo is the NJEA’s status quo,” complete with multi-million dollar pay-outs to union executives (as I wrote earlier this year, “ NJEA set new spending records, largely due to exorbitant salaries and benefits lavished on its central office staff, who now make 19.1 percent more than they did in 2015”), and a refusal to grapple with the needs of many teachers who may lose their pensions.
With Murphy as NJEA’s pawn, New Jersey is sliding backwards in its once-noble quest to meet the the needs of schoolchildren, particularly low-income ones, who, through flawed leadership in Governor’s mansion and the DOE, may lose their chance at college and career readiness, as well as upwards social mobility.
That’s why journalists and politicians must be clear about who is pulling the strings on the Murphy marionette. It’s about kids, not adults.