Federal investigation to look into Chris Christie's use of Sandy money

Dave Evans reports from New Jersey
March 18, 2014 5:59:17 AM PDT
A new federal investigation is looking into New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's use of Superstorm Sandy relief funds.

Federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used those relief funds to produce tourism ads starring him and his family.

Assemblyman Frank Pallone says there is reason to believe there is a problem and that these are serious questions.

Pallone requested the audit in an original letter back in August, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development did a preliminary review.

"It's like a campaign ad, it features the governor's family and people in the middle of a campaign won't see the difference," said Pallone.

Pallone was notified at the end of last week that this would be a full blown investigation, just days after Christie dismissed two top advisers for their roles in the George Washington Bridge scandal.

The audit will reviews the state's use of $25 million of Sandy aid funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore. At issue is the bidding process for the campaign and released documents that raise questions as to why the state chose to award the contract to a firm that Pallone says charged the state more than $2 million than a comparable bid for similar work.

The company that submitted the more expensive bid has ties to the Christie Administration and offered to feature him in the ad. The losing bid did not.

"I commend the HUD Office of the Inspector General for investigating whether the state properly utilized taxpayer funds for this marketing campaign," Pallone said. "Working with my New Jersey colleagues, we had to fight hard to get the Sandy aid package passed by assuring others in Congress the funding was desperately needed and would be spent responsibly. I also raised concerns that Governor Christie and his family appeared in taxpayer-funded advertisements during an election year."

The audit will be complete in several months, at which time an official report will be issued.

Christie spokesman Colin Reed says the federal government approved the campaign and that the administration expects a review will find it was effective.

The ads have been controversial from the start.

"it looks like a bio ad, oh come to New Jersey, but I don't want to pay for ads for somebody's advertising coming out of Sandy relief fund. It gives the whole thing a black eye," said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a potential Christie rival in the 2016 presidential campaign.

But a Christie spokesman said "The ad campaign has already been praised by the Obama administration."

"It's not actually doing the advertising that is bothering me, it's that the lower bidder wasn't chosen and the one that was chosen was twice as much, an extra $2 million," said Pallone.