New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy Tightens Executive Branch Gift Restrictions on First Full Day in Office

In his first full day in office, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 2, tightening ethics restrictions and disclosure requirements on certain State employees and public officers.

The following State employees and public officers are required to file a detailed financial disclosure with the State Ethics commission within 120 days of commencing employment and then by May 15th each year:

  • The Governor;
  • The Lieutenant Governor;
  • Heads of principal departments in the Executive Branch;
  • Chiefs of staff and assistant or deputy heads of principal departments;
  • Heads and assistant heads of divisions within a principal department;
  • The Governor’s senior staff; and
  • The CEOs and board members of New Jersey’s various commissions and authorities.

These disclosure obligations also cover the spouses or domestic partners and dependent children of the above-listed individuals.

The financial disclosure must include:

  • A list of all assets over $1,000;
  • A list of liabilities owed, with certain exceptions; and
  • A list of all sources of income, including gifts received in the preceding twelve months in the following categories:
    • Cash gifts valuing $100 or more from a person;
    • Non-cash gifts with an aggregated fair market value of $200 or more from a person; and
    • Gifts with an aggregated cash or fair market value of $3,000 or more from a grandparent, parent, spouse or domestic partner, child, or grandchild.

The biggest change with respect to the Code of Ethics applicable to the Executive Branch are changes to the gift rules, which are seen as a rebuke to the practices of Governor Christie. In Executive Order No.2, Governor Murphy tightened gift restrictions for himself and Lieutenant Governor Oliver.  All gifts received from individuals that are not “longtime personal friends” and are valued at over $390 must be disclosed.  This restriction applies retroactively to all gifts received from January 2015. Under the EO, a “long-time personal friend” is defined as an individual who has had an existing personal relationship with the Governor at least three years prior to the date on which he or she took office.

Upon signing Executive Order No. 2, Governor Murphy said, “This administration will have the back of every New Jersey resident and that begins with having a government they can trust.  Our principles are strong and, today, we have taken the first step toward a fairer New Jersey.”

Although the Executive Branch gift restrictions apply to those serving in the Executive Branch, the private sector should pay attention to these restrictions and make sure that they do not put an Executive Branch employee or public officer in a position of potentially violating the EO. For more information on Executive Order No. 2 and how various gift rules may impact your company’s interactions with the government, please contact Rebecca Moll Freed, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Corporate Political Activity Law Group at rfreed@genovaburns.com or 973-230-2075.

What President Trump’s Executive Order Means for 501(c)(3) Political Activity

Recently, President Trump signed his Executive Order “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.”  It directs the Secretary of the Treasury to exercise discretion to avoid taking any adverse action against an individual, house of worship, or religious organization that speaks about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, including the revocation of 501(c)(3) status.  According to President Trump, this Executive Order “removes the financial threat faced by tax-exempt churches from the Internal Revenue Service when pastors speak out on behalf of political candidates.”

Under the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(3) charitable organizations are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity.  This means: making political contributions, making statements that endorse or oppose a candidate, and asking candidates to sign pledges on any issue.  However, charitable organizations are allowed to engage in limited non-partisan activity, such as: voter-registration drives, limited lobbying on ballot initiatives, and educating candidates on issues that fall under the purview of the entity.  Also, the officers, directors, and employees of a 501(c)(3) retain the right to personally engage in partisan political activity.

So, does this Executive Order free religious 501(c)(3) charitable organizations to engage in partisan political activity without fear of tax-exempt status revocation?  Perhaps not. While the Executive Order may promote more relaxed enforcement, the restrictions on partisan political activity still exist in statute and legislative action would be required to change the law. In addition, this Executive Order may face legal challenges in court. The Executive Order also raises the question whether churches should be treated differently from non-religious 501(c)(3) entities. Until and unless the statute is changed, 501(c)(3) organizations would do well to refrain from participating in partisan political activity.

For more information on how this Executive Order may effect you, please contact Rebecca Moll Freed, Esq., Chair of the Corporate Political Activity Law Group, at rfreed@genovaburns.com or 973-230-2075.