New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s week is not beginning any better than the last one ended. Monday morning, CNN reported that Christie has an entirely new scandal on his hands: the federal government investigating potentially inappropriate use of Hurricane Sandy funds for an ad campaign promoting Christie before the election.
According to CNN, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone notified them of his request for an investigation into New Jersey’s “Stronger than the Storm” campaign, a series of advertisements encouraging tourists to visit the Jersey Shore after the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey used $25 million in Sandy relief funds for the campaign and gave a contract to a politically active marketing firm with ties to Christie.
The advertisements showed families enjoying the beach and prominently featured Governor Christie and his family.
The Sandy relief funds were intended to go directly to families that needed help reconstructing their homes or otherwise finding shelter after entire towns were ravaged by the storm. Instead, that money went to this campaign and to a firm that demanded more than twice what the lowest bid on the contract would have cost. Various employees of that firm have donated money to both Christie campaigns.
At the time, Christie spokesperson Michael Drewniak argued that the firm’s contract required more money but used the money efficiently because it “had statewide connections that would allow it to mobilize quickly to perform the high-stakes work of boosting tourism in the first summer season since Superstorm Sandy.” The head of a competing firm told the Asbury Park Press that acceptance of the contract at that cost was something her firm simply could not understand.
The investigation comes at a time in which Christie’s image as an honest, if tough, New Jersey leader is under fire for an incident in September in which his senior officials closed lanes of the George Washington Bridge–the most trafficked bridge in the United States. This occurred during rush hour of the first week of school in Fort Lee, NJ, causing four-hour delays. The closure, emails revealed, was political retribution, and most agree that it was a move against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who declined to endorse Christie. While many (except Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post) agree that the bridge scandal has significantly hurt Christie’s chances at a 2016 presidential run, it likely has not significantly impacted Christie’s image in New Jersey, a state with an extensive history of corruption.
Polls a year later showed that New Jersey residents by and large approved of Christie’s handling of the storm, and Christie himself used Hurricane Sandy extensively in his campaign ads. Should it be discovered that Christie misappropriated Sandy funds, however, his signature achievement as governor will be under scrutiny. Uncovering that he may have used $25 million that could have gone to rebuilding the homes of Sandy victims is not just a national problem the way the bridge scandal is, but it could impugn his character before the people of New Jersey and snowball into a serious challenge of his power for the rest of his gubernatorial term.