The Asbury Park Press, a southern New Jersey newspaper, reported on Friday that the paper has been requesting information from Chris Christie’s administration for months on where federal funding for Hurricane Sandy victims is going–requests that, so far, have yielded nothing in return.
In a report by the Press’s Bob Jordan, the paper notes that the Christie administration had promised they would release government records of how Sandy funds were being used–both federal funds (requested by the Fair Share Housing Center) and private funds from contracts (requested by the Press). To the paper’s request, the state had answered that they would be sharing “hundreds” of files on the matter, including those surrounding funds for the statewide “Stronger than the Storm” ad campaign, “on a rolling basis” starting in October.
Having heard nothing of the sort out of Trenton, the paper aired its grievances with Christie on Friday.
Calling the failure to release the records “government censorship by another name,” Executive Editor and Vice President of News Hollis R. Towns noted that, should the state not give the Asbury Park Press the necessary documents, the paper will sue the state.
The paper notes that the Fair Share Housing Center did receive the information it demanded, but only after suing the administration for it. The paperwork the Fair Share Housing Center acquired detailed the use of federal funding for those who were victims of Hurricane Sandy. Their subsequent report on the funding–$50 billion in total including other states–is at “high risk for being spent improperly.”
The paperwork the Asbury Park Press seeks is on contract bidding for the multi-million dollar “Stronger than the Storm” campaign, for which Governor Christie received much criticism, including from Senator Rand Paul. The ads, the administration argued, were intended to drive tourism to the ravaged Jersey Shore. Instead, many saw them as free advertising for the Christie reelection campaign.
Christie’s office has not been forthcoming in addressing the concerns of the Press or the Fair Share Housing Authority. Christie’s spokesman called those criticizing the administration’s transparency a “real rogue’s gallery.” Christie himself commented, “Don’t even start with me about Fair Share Housing,” calling them a “hack group” with which he refused to “waste my time.”
This is not the first time that Governor Christie faces criticism for being insufficiently forthcoming with the use of funds meant to aid Sandy victims. Last April, Christie vetoed a bill that would have created an oversight infrastructure imposing transparency over the use of those funds, alleging that “such oversight is already in place.” The oversight mechanism in place, a Sandy transparency website, has been reported to stall in updating its reports on how the government spends the money.
Given a report last month that the state has not distributed most federal aid meant for New Jersey’s Sandy victims yet, there appears to be no way to discover where those funds are and what the government plans to do with them without the transparency requests from the Asbury Park Press and other groups.