Already buffeted by a growing traffic scandal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is now reportedly facing new scrutiny for using relief funds to tout his response to Superstorm Sandy at the height of his re-election campaign.
Federal authorities are investigating whether Christie’s administration improperly spent the money intended for storm relief on tourism ads featuring him and his family while he was running for re-election last year, CNN reports. New Jersey Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, who first sought a probe last year, told CNN that federal auditors were looking at how the state spent $25 million in relief funds.
Christie’s office said there was nothing unusual about the ads or how they were paid for.
“The Stronger Than the Storm campaign was just one part of the first action plan approved by the Obama Administration and developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business during the first summer after Sandy,” spokesman Colin Reed said in a statement. “Federal agency reviews are routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly. We’re confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history.”
The trouble comes as Christie is already facing the most serious crisis of his political career: a scandal in which it’s been revealed that aides and allies snarled traffic in a North Jersey town as political payback to its mayor. Federal authorities are already looking into that matter, and Christie apologized and fired a top aide last week as more details emerged.
A senior New Jersey Democrat in the state legislature said Monday that the body’s investigation into the traffic scandal was growing into a probe of how power was abused and that a new investigative committee with subpoena power had been formed, the Associated Press reports. “It is clearly an abuse of power,” assembly majority leader Lou Greenwald said. “The question is, Who abused their power and how high did it go?”
Christie’s response to the devastating superstorm was a key selling point ahead of his landslide victory last year, and any significant questions over how he spent relief money could further damage the Republican’s 2016 presidential hopes.