‘SIT DOWN, SHUT UP’ – Gov. Chris Christie confronts a heckler before his 19-state campaign trip
By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
While Chris Christie has been vocal during a 19-state campaign trip that ends today, his staff has little to say about who pays for the New Jersey governor’s extensive political travels.
Christie’s office claims it has no records, emails or correspondence concerning the trips – and that it is exempt from the rules that govern other state officials.
“I understand that third parties did pay for some of the governor’s trips…however, our office has not been provided with any such documents,” wrote Christie’s chief ethics officer, Heather Taylor, in a response to a request from New Jersey Watchdog.
New Jersey regulations require third-party organizations that fund the travel of state officials must disclose the payment arrangements in writing. The state agency or office is required to retain those records.
“It is my understanding that the Office of Governor is not subject to Treasury Circular 12-14-OMB, so we do not have any records,” stated Taylor. The governor contends he is not bound by state travel rules because of memos state budget officials sent to former governors Brendan Byrne in 1979 and Christine Todd Whitman in 2000.
As chair of the Republican Governors Association, Christie began a six-day road trip Oct. 29 to campaign for GOP gubernatorial candidates running in Tuesday’s election. His itinerary includes stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Michigan, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine.
The mission also serves as a pre-cursor for Christie’s anticipated run for the White House in 2016. It gives him opportunities to grab the spotlight, gather support and collect political IOUs while burnishing an image as a straight-talking leader.
But back home in New Jersey, Christie is developing a reputation as a master of double-standards. He campaigned for governor as a champion of “open and honest government,” yet often fights to stop the release of public records.
“Today, a new era of accountability and transparency is here,” said Christie in his 2010 inauguration speech. “Today, change has arrived.”
In contrast, Christie’s administration is defending its denial of public records requests in roughly two dozen cases filed by numerous plaintiffs – including a New Jersey Watchdog reporter – in Mercer County Superior Court.
Two weeks ago, Judge Mary C. Jacobson ordered the governor’s office to provide records of air travel expenses, including costs and itineraries. She awarded legal fees to a New Jersey Watchdog reporter; the state has yet to turn over the documents.
Jacobson also ruled the names of hotels where Christie stayed at taxpayers’ expense in 2012 and 2013 should be kept confidential for security reasons.
Travel records are a particularly sensitive issue for Christie, who talks like a cost-cutter yet acts like a big spender when someone else is paying the bill.
Before Christie took office as governor, he already had a reputation as a high-rolling traveler.
As a U.S. Attorney, Christie was singled out by the Justice Department’s inspector general for violating travel regulations with excessive lodging expenses on two-thirds of his trips from 2007 to 2009.
“In terms of percentage of travel, U.S. Attorney C was the U.S. Attorney who most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification,” stated the report. Christie has since acknowledged he is U.S. Attorney C.
Rather than take a taxi during a trip to Boston, Christie prearranged a $236 car service for a four-mile shuttle between the airport and his hotel.