Christie tries to fly above New Jersey travel rules

MYOB: Gov. Chris Christie claims records of his travels are none of the public’s business

By Mark Lagerkvist │ New Jersey Watchdog

Is Gov. Chris Christie above the state travel rules that govern all other New Jersey officials?

That’s what the governor’s lawyers are arguing in response to a public records lawsuit filed by a New Jersey Watchdog reporter in Mercer County Superior Court.

For evidence, Christie is relying on a 1979 memo to former Gov. Brendan Byrne. In it, former budget director Edward Hofgesang decreed: “I hereby rule that the governor and staff of the governor’s office are granted exemptions from these State Travel Regulations.”

But that exception could be history because it was based on old regulations that have been replaced by new rules over the past 35 years.

The case before Judge Mary C. Jacobson centers on disclosures by third-party organizations that pay for out-of-state trips by Christie and his senior staff.

Current rules require state agencies to collect and keep documentation of who’s paying on the third-party’s letterhead. The regulations are detailed in Treasury Circular 12-14-OMB.

Yet the governor’s office completely denied the reporter’s request for the files, claiming it was “unclear … and therefore invalid” under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.

Based on the 1979 memo, plus a similar one to former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 2000, the requirement “does not apply to the governor’s office,” argued Deputy Attorney General Todd Wigder in a brief to the court.

“If the governor’s office — of a governor with a national profile that has had designs on higher office — keeps no records of who pays him to attend an event within the past two years, there are going to be far larger problems than an OPRA lawsuit,” replied the reporter’s attorney, Donald M. Doherty.

A court hearing before Jacobson is scheduled for Monday.

Christie and his entourage have traveled extensively over the past couple of years. During the 2012 election, the New Jersey governor was on the national trail to campaign and raise funds for Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates for office.

As chair of the Republican Governors Association this year and a possible presidential candidate for 2016, Christie’s frequent journeys are continuing.

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DISCLOSURE: Investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist is the plaintiff in Lagerkvist v. Office of Governor, Mercer County Superior Court, MER-L-821-14

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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