Union City, NEW JERSEY–Governor Chris Christie may find himself in trouble with the law yet again. According to an investigation by liberal blogger David Sirota, a contract the Christie administration awarded to a hedge fund that donated to the Republican National Committee may have violated state election law.
Sirota writes at PandoDaily that the Christie administration has a “pending deal” with Chatham Asset Management that would request the group to manage $300 million in pension funds. The deal, allegedly agreed upon shortly after Christie’s reelection, arrives just as New Jersey prepares to dole out the largest amount of money in public pension funds in its history.
A look through campaign finance records finds that the principal of Chatham Asset Management personally donated to the Republican National Committee. She did not contribute to the Christie campaign directly, but Sirota argues that the RNC was too directly involved in Christie’s reelection for the donation not to violate state campaign finance laws.
The state laws, he notes, “prohibit state contractors from directly or indirectly financially supporting the election campaigns of state officials. Those statutes also explicitly prohibit the use of outside groups or family members to circumvent that ban.” The law clearly states that the donations must not be made “for the purpose of influencing any election for State office.”
That last sentence is where Chatham and Christie appear furthest away from violating law: it is nearly impossible, without records of private conversations, to prove that the intent on Chatham’s behalf was to influence New Jersey state office elections specifically, and not simply to bolster the efforts of the national Republican Party. RNC rules do not allow donors to earmark money for specific elections. Nonetheless, New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who became a national figure in the wake of leading the investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal, considers the exchange unethical. He tells Sirota, “The optics are clearly horrible and the intent of the law is that this not happen.”
He adds, “There is a violation of the pay to play laws where someone donates funds to the RNC that are later used in New Jersey, and then that person receives a contract–in this case, a management of a large amount of money in return.”
The Governor’s office responded to the investigation by saying that the donations “are not in violation of the Department of Treasury rules regarding impermissible political contributions made by funds doing business with the State” because the purpose of the donation must clearly be to influence a state election, which is not the case.
Sirota, who broke the story for PandoDaily, is more popularly known for his columns at Salon and appearances on MSNBC. During the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon terror attacks, Sirota sparked controversy when he wrote that he “hoped” the perpetrators of the crime were white. His story for Pando is not a column and has no opinion element to it, however, instead presenting documents to corroborate his thesis that the exchange between Governor Christie and Chatham Asset Management is barred by New Jersey state law.
Whether or not investigations conclude that any wrongdoing has occurred in this incident, yet another potential controversy could further tarnish Governor Christie’s reputation. Whilesome have speculated that Christie has successfully recovered from the scandal known as BridgeGate, Christie continues to suffer a barrage of attacks from New Jersey media and residents alike based on the dire economic situation in which the state finds itself. New Jersey has failed to meet revenue goals promised by the Governor for months at a time, ending March seven percent below the revenue Christie proposed. New Jersey’s credit ratings continue to plummet across various credit rating platforms, most recently dropping to A+, third lowest in the nation, at Standard & Poor’s.
Governor Christie has placed an emphasis on job creation programs, appearing last week in Jersey City with disgraced former Governor James McGreevey. McGreevey currently earns six figures as a local Jersey City job coordinating official on the municipal payroll.