Exposed! Watchdog reveals Gov. Christie’s ‘valuable asset’

By Mark Lagerkvist  /  Watchdog

Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

QUESTION: Why did Gov. Chris Christie fight so hard to keep a public record secret?

For nine months, Chris Christie fought hard at state expense to keep a public record secret – even though it contained no real secrets, confidential information or anything likely to endanger anyone.

It’s a “valuable asset,” the New Jersey governor’s lawyers claimed in court – one that would “cause irreparable harm to the state” if released.

Judge for yourself. Click here to view and download Christie’s prized directory of media contacts, obtained by New Jersey Watchdog under a court order.

A key cog in a publicity machine that transformed Christie into a national figure and set the stage for his White House run, the multi-tiered list of emails was gathered by the governor’s communications staff of 16 full-time state employees, paid $1.36 million in salaries last year. It helped him score countless national television appearances, plus 8,761,511 views on YouTube, 176,955 likes on Facebook and 6,810 tweets to 489,000 followers on Twitter during his first five years in the Statehouse.

RELATED: Christie’s publicity blitz cost taxpayers $5 million

“Though the governor has argued that this should remain confidential, he has probably already shared that media list with a few special friends – such as his political action committee, or party affiliates – which means our tax dollars are being used in ways most of us never imagined,” stated an editorial by the Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper.

It’s just one of the ways Christie has spent state resources and bent public policy to suit his purposes.

For Christie’s frequent out-of-state political trips, taxpayers have been stuck with more than $1.1 million in American Express charges for the travel expenses of his Executive Protection Unit. The details of how the public’s money was spent remain secret under a judge’s ruling.

The amount does not include overtime pay for the state troopers assigned to EPU, kept confidential by a regulation created by the current administration.

RELATED: Court allows Christie to hide $1 million in Amex charges

As Christie continues his presidential campaign, the costs will only increase. So far this year, the governor has been outside New Jersey on roughly 150 days while collecting his full-time salary of $175,000 a year.

That’s not all.

From a state expense account, Christie spent $300,000 on food and alcohol – including $82,000 for concessions during the 2010 and 2011 NFL seasons at MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants and Jets play their home games. Fearing a scandal for its rising political star, the New Jersey Republican Committee quietly used its own funds to reimburse the state Treasury for those bills.

RELATED: Christie spends $82K from state account on concessions at NFL games

Overall, the governor has spent $360,000 from the expense allowance that supplements his salary. His office was unable to produce receipts for nearly $250,000, or more than two-thirds of the expenditures, in response to a request by New Jersey Watchdog.

RELATED: Christie has no receipts for quarter-million dollars in expenses

Christie also accepted gifts from wealthy and powerful friends. For example:

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones flew Gov. Chris Christie and his family to Texas on a charter plane to be his guests in a VIP luxury box at a playoff game in January.
  • Billionaire casino owner Sheldon G. Adelson provided a private jet to fly the governor and his clan to Israel in 2012.
  • King Abdullah of Jordan picked up a $30,000 hotel tab for Christie and his entourage during the same trip.

Yet Christie failed to disclose any gifts on his annual financial disclosures to the state. Instead, he dodged the requirement with the help of a pretzel-logic advisory opinion by acting attorney general John Hoffman, an appointee who serves at the governor’s pleasure.

According to Hoffman, a gift does not have to be reported unless it’s a gratuity – such as “money received for performing a service” or “items received in return for performing some service, such as speaking at an event.”

The bottom line, strange but true: Christie does not have to disclose valuable favors as gifts unless it can be shown he did something in exchange.  So in New Jersey, it’s not a gift unless there is a quid pro quo.

RELATED: Gifts to Christie are not ‘gifts,’ rules NJ attorney general

Christie’s winning streak ended in May, when Mercer County Superior Court ordered his office to turn over the media list to New Jersey Watchdog. Instead of releasing the record, the governor asked Judge Mary C. Jacobson to reconsider her decision. In August, the judge denied that request.

“The most disturbing part of it to me is that it contradicts the spirit of the Open Public Records Act,” said Jacobson. “The whole bias of OPRA is to provide documents and cooperate with requesters.”

Her order was temporarily stayed until September to give the state a chance to take its plea to the Appellate Division. At that point, the governor surrendered – but not completely.

Instead of the 2,500 contacts believed to be on the list, the record provided by Christie had only 1,229 names. The governor’s staff denied it had altered the list to avoid disclosure or circumvent the court order.

RELATED: Judge rules Christie obeyed order on record partially withheld

One media contact you won’t find on the list is New Jersey Watchdog. The governor’s office has repeatedly refused to send its press releases, news advisories, public schedules and other official communications to the investigative news site, which is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association and New Jersey State Police.

It is unknown how much the state expended in time and resources to try to keep the governor’s media list secret.  On Christie’s behalf, the attorney general’s office filed more than 100 pages of legal arguments, including four briefs, four certifications and unsuccessful motions for reconsideration and stay pending appeal.

The state was also ordered to pay for New Jersey Watchdog’s legal fees, an amount yet to be determined by the court.

When Christie took office in 2010, he promoted himself as an advocate of “good, open and honest government,” who championed “rigorous ethics reforms.”

# # #

DISCLOSURE – Investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist was the plaintiff in Lagerkvist v. Office of the Governor, MER-L-463-15, Mercer County Superior Court.

Read More
%d bloggers like this: