George E. Norcross III, a co-owner of The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, sent fund-raising invitations this week to employees of the newspapers seeking contributions for his brother's congressional campaign, a move his spokesman described Thursday as inadvertent.
The messages, delivered to the work e-mail addresses and mailboxes of several reporters at offices in Center City and Cherry Hill, prompted a complaint from the union that represents newsroom employees at the papers' parent company, Interstate General Media.
"Mr. Norcross maintains a database of over 10,000 contacts, and some employees of Interstate General Media inadvertently were not removed from it before this invitation went out," said Daniel Fee, a spokesman for Norcross. "We apologize to anyone who was offended or inconvenienced by receiving it, and we will ensure it does not occur again."
Newspaper Guild president Howard Gensler said the invitations on behalf of New Jersey State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), a South Jersey congressional candidate, nevertheless raised concerns.
"The Newspaper Guild objects to the use of company e-mail and company mail delivery for any political purposes," he said. "It puts unfair pressure on our members to get invited to a political fund-raiser by one of our owners."
Personnel policies of IGM prohibit reporters and other staff members from donating money or time to political candidates.
Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member and ethicist at the Poynter Institute, a journalism organization, said that whether or not the invitations were sent intentionally, they could be perceived as a conflict for George Norcross, a prominent South Jersey Democratic leader.
"As a boss, you don't ask your employees to contribute to a cause, because it could be seen as coercive," she said. "It could also be seen as a not-so-subtle hint to reporters to skew their coverage."
Fee denied any such intent.
Reporters at three other media outlets in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey said they received similar invitations.
The 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.
Both invited recipients to a March 25 fund-raiser at Auletto Caterers in Deptford hosted by George Norcross, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), and Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden).
The letters included an RSVP form and an envelope in which to mail checks back to the campaign, with suggested donations ranging from $2,600 for individuals to $20,000 for political action committees.
Donald Norcross, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351, is seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews in New Jersey's First District, which covers Camden and Gloucester Counties. Andrews resigned last month to take a job with a Philadelphia law firm.
George Norcross, IGM's majority owner, leads a group of co-owners battling in Delaware Chancery Court with rivals Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest over future ownership of the company.