Did Norcross Fund-Raising Violate Insurance Bans on Campaigning?

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Contemporary Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The recent news that George Norcross III sent out emails macing employees and staff reporters of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News was explained away by a Norcross spokesman as an oversight.  The emails asked that the reporters attend George’s brother Don’s campaign fund raiser for Congress.

It seems there was a goof-up.   The names were not expunged from Norcross’s regular data base of emails used for political purposes. He apologized.

Nothing to see here folks, just a little blip, move on.

Exterior3

Connor-Strong NJ HA

I tend to believe that.  Norcross is far too smart a guy to try to mace reporters. Intentionally. For starters, he knows they are broke.   Somebody in his regularly well-oiled campaign screwed up and did not clean up the campaign data base.

But in that explanation and attempted extrication comes a more serious and complex tangle for George III.

Did George, the executive vice chairman of Connor-Strong & Buckelew, violate his own insurance company’s “governance” rules? Intentionally, or through negligence, did he co-mingle his corporate and political job functions by maintaining a campaign data base and distribution system  within the Connor-Strong system?

By sending out emails from his corporate account at Connor-Strong in Parsippany, NJ, did he, so to speak, ethically screw the pooch? And violate his own governance rules designed to keep Connor-Strong from violating laws prohibiting insurance firms from directly contributing to campaigns?

Ironman with power disk

Ironman with power disk

It is not a small question.  Electronic campaign systems are the souls of new political machines.  You know that little disc “Iron Man” keeps putting in his chest in the movies?  That’s what electronic campaign capability is to any modern candidate:  the most important power source.

And there seems to be no doubt that the emails were sent from Norcross’s company account. Note the news story reference:

The mailed messages were sent by Donald Norcross’ congressional campaign committee to reporters at the two IGM newspapers. Those sent electronically came from George Norcross’ e-mail address at his insurance firm, Conner, Strong & Buckelew.

norcross head

George III

The emphasis above is mine because it is key to a larger question.  How does George Norcross, the self- acknowledged political boss of South Jersey, manage to be both a political force while serving as Executive Chairman — the guy at the top of the masthead — at an insurance firm that proudly proclaims that it takes part in no politics, because that would violate the law?

Or, to quote the “governance” of Connor-Strong:

Under the laws of many jurisdictions, Conner Strong & Buckelew is legally prohibited from making political contributions as a business entity and may be otherwise disqualified by law from receiving the award of certain public contracts should certain political contributions be made.

A.        Conner Strong & Buckelew shall not make any political contributions, whether monetary or in-kind, to candidates for political office, candidate committees, political party committees or other similar initiatives.  

B.         No officer, director or shareholder of Conner Strong & Buckelew (as well as their respective spouses, partners and dependent children residing within the household) shall make any political contributions, whether monetary or in-kind, to candidates for political office, candidate committees, political party committees or other similar initiatives. 

C.        Notwithstanding paragraph B above, Conner Strong & Buckelew does permit its employees, including officers, directors and shareholders (as well as their respective spouses, partners and dependent children residing within the household) to make political contributions to candidates for federal offices, which includes President of the United States, United States Senate and United States House of Representatives. All contributions must comply with applicable law.  

The synopsis and fair interpretation of the notwithstandings and heretofores?

As an individual and employee of Connor-Strong, George can walk down the street buck naked with a barrel around him marked Don Norcross for Congress.  As an individual, he can throw out dollar bills on behalf of his brother running for Congress.  No harm, no foul.

But he can’t do that in a Connor-Strong barrel. Or from his offices in Connor-Strong.  Or from systems owned by Connor-Strong. From email at Connor-Strong.  Or campaign data bases housed by Connor Strong.  Because that means the company has made some sort of in-kind contribution to a political campaign.  And that means George may have run afoul  of his corporate governance guidelines — at the very least.

Don Norcross

Don Norcross

If the news reports are correct, that is what George the Trois may have done.  And not in a trifling way.  George Norcross III — or someone in his office — sent out emails to thousands of people from the company account of the Executive Chairman, the top man at the firm. And the data base of 10,000, one must therefore assume, is also stored and maintained on Connor-Strong servers, else he could not have done the mass mail merge needed to send out the invites.

Such data bases and distribution systems aren’t some sort of fiddle-dee-dee technicality.  Modern campaigns require them.  The idea that a few reporter names may have sloppily been left on the data base is understandable and forgiveable.  The fact that a campaign data base and distribution  system is housed within Connor-Strong and paid for by Connor-Strong is not.

Such systems are expensive to maintain, keep up to date, and tune.  A well-run social media and email campaign was at the heart of the Obama successful 2012 campaign.  The fact that Connor-Strong apparently is providing that service to a political campaign raises some substantive questions, not just for “governance.”  The services are worth thousands if not tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There simply ARE no campaigns without sophisticated data bases and distribution systems these days. A snail campaign to 10,000 people at an outside agency would easily cost $10,000.  An email campaign?  Gathering the names?  Storing them?  Sending them out? Receiving contacts back?  Probably around the same $10K at minimum.

So  the fact that Don Norcross is benefitting from a campaign housed within and paid for by Conner-Strong would not be a small matter.  The question is street-truth serious.

Why? The point made by the insurance firm is clear so let me state it again:

Under the laws of many jurisdictions, Conner Strong & Buckelew is legally prohibited from making political contributions as a business entity and may be otherwise disqualified by law from receiving the award of certain public contracts should certain political contributions be made. 

Perhaps it is time for the governance committee at Conner Strong  to pop the hood on its computer and see if it says, “Powered by Norcross for Congress 2014” on the engine block.  And if they don’t, perhaps one of the jurisdictions might help them.

Comments
  1. Robert Frump says:

    Hmm. Any Connor-Strong employees or business associates want to query the potential conflict?
    The Company understands that no code or policy can address every scenario or answer every question. To ensure that all employees and business associates can obtain prompt answers to their questions and inquiries, the Company has designated the General Counsel as the designated individual for overseeing and monitoring compliance with this code. The General Counsel can be reached at 856-470-5999. Written communications intended to be confidential should be mailed to Conner Strong & Buckelew Companies, Inc., 40 Lake Center Executive Park, 401 Rt. 73 North, Suite 300, P.O. Box 989, Marlton, New Jersey 08053, Attn: General Counsel.

    We encourage all employees and business associates to promptly report any violations of this Code or any other laws, rules or regulations to the Company’s General Counsel. The Company does not permit retaliation or discrimination of any kind against employees or business associates who reasonably believe there has been possible illegal or unethical conduct and who in good faith report the conduct to us. However, it is a violation of our policy for any employee to communicate a report claiming illegal or unethical conduct which the employee knows or reasonably should know to be false. Any reported violation will be kept confidential to the extent possible.

    The report of an alleged violation of the Code must be factual, rather than speculative or conclusory, and should contain the following specific information to justify the commencement of an investigation:

    (i) the alleged event, including the date and location of such event;

    (ii) the name of each person involved; and

    (iii) any additional relevant information, documentation or other evidence available to support the reported violation.

    Reported violations will be promptly investigated. Employees are expected to cooperate fully with any investigation made by the Company or any of its representatives.

    Employees who violate this Code may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. The Company will also terminate any relationship with a business associate if such relationship is in violation of this Code. Knowledge of a violation and failure to promptly report or correct the violation may also subject an employee to disciplinary action.

    ***

    Like

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