Last week, a Monmouth University poll found that 50 percent of New Jersey’s adults believed Chris Christie was personally involved in the ongoing #Bridgegate scandal, a massive PR nightmare that's become synonymous with his career and likely nixed his chances of ever running for president.Yet regardless of whether the governor played an important role in the decision to shut down lanes of the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution, he has without question racked up a long list of scandals in the half-decade since he assumed the role of New Jersey’s chief executive, ones that even eclipse even #Bridgegate. They might not get Twitter's attention, but they shouldn't be forgotten.
1) Since becoming governor, reports indicate he has grossly abused his expense account
According to New Jersey Watchdog, an Internet transparency group ran by Mark Lagerkvist, Chris Christie has spent $360,000 of his taxpayer-subsidized expense account over the last five years. Of that amount, $300,000 was used to purchase what the state budget describes as “an allowance of funds not otherwise appropriated and used for official receptions on behalf of the state, the operation of an official residence, for other expenses.”In Christie’s case, this has meant food, beverages, libations, and desserts. Perhaps most conspicuously, Christie spent $82,594 to buy concessions at football games during the NFL season in 2010-2011 on 58 separate occasions.
Nor is this the first time the tab for Christie’s personal excesses has been picked up by taxpayers: Back when he was a federal prosecutor, Christie routinely stayed in hotels whose fares exceeded government guidelines, and a group tied to Hillary Clinton has already tried to make political hay over his use of the state helicopter for unnecessary personal ends.
2) He has allegedly used Hurricane Sandy relief money for political purposes
As the Newark Star-Ledger reported last year, nearly one-third of the federal house aid money allocated to Hurricane Sandy victims went to areas of New Jersey that weren’t particularly impacted by the storm. “Nearly a third of the money—$47.6 million, earmarked for new affordable housing projects—landed in Essex and Middlesex counties,” wrote Ted Sherman, “while many hard-hit Jersey Shore communities in Ocean saw relatively little of it.”
He has also been accused by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer of holding hurricane relief money hostage unless she approved a redevelopment plan proposed by the Rockefeller Group, a claim that his own administration tried to put to rest with an internal investigation that Mayor Zimmer dismissed as an “one-sided whitewash.”
3) He has purportedly misused billions in Port Authority funds for unrelated projects in New Jersey
Only a few months after taking office, Christie killed an $8.7 billion transportation project known as the ARC Tunnel, which was already in development when Christie took office (and, indeed, had been development for 30 years) and aimed to clear congestion by providing commuters with a public train under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey to New York City.
While this could be construed as a legitimate attempt to save taxpayer money, that claim is undermined by what Christie did next—namely, use billions of Port Authority funds to bankroll transportation projects elsewhere in his state. As a result, the Securities and Exchange Commission is now investigating the Christie administration’s use of roughly $1.8 billion from Port Authority in tax-exempt bond financing for bridges and roadways on the New Jersey side near the Holland Tunnel.
Making matters worse, the Christie administration allegedly pressured the Port Authority into re-branding the Pulaski Skyway as an artery of the Lincoln Tunnel. Since the Holland Tunnel does not fall under the Port Authority’s purview, this was the only way to make the administration’s new policy legal.
4) He has privatized the state’s public pension system, enriching wealthy business interests at the expense of taxpayers and state workers
Since taking office, the Christie administration has moved the retirement savings of public workers like teachers, firefighters, and police officers over to private financial firms on Wall Street, as Salon reported last week. “While Christie says the pension system cannot afford to maintain current retirement benefits, pension fees paid to financial firms have quadrupled to $600 million a year,” writes David Sirota, “or $1.5 billion in total since he took office in 2010.”
Although Christie officials admit that they have not fully disclosed the full extent of these payments, many were made to companies whose executives contributed to Christie’s political campaigns. According to the International Business Times, the state pension’s disclosed fees have risen from $140 million in 2010 to the aforementioned $600 million last year.
5) He has reportedly blocked reforms that would clean up New Jersey’s government
While it isn’t illegal to veto legislation that is necessary for the maintenance of the public trust, it is certainly scandalous—especially for a politician who, like Christie, has presented himself as an advocate of reforms that would clean up the state government.
Last week, Christie vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have strengthened New Jersey’s ability to enforce a Securities and Exchange Commission rule barring financial firms that manage state pension money from donating to the governors who could theoretically reward them when deciding how to invest public pension funds. On Tuesday, he also vetoed a bill that would have provided annual evaluations to document the effectiveness of the corporate tax breaks Christie has implemented in his state.
There are two common themes that run through all of the aforementioned Christie scandals. First, they clearly establish a pattern in which the governor has repeatedly been accused of abusing his power for political ends (i.e., of Christie using his office in order to reward political friends and punish political opponents).
The other theme is Christie’s blatant disrespect for taxpayer money itself. From the luxurious hotel accommodations he charged during his days as a federal prosecutor to spending more than $80,000 on concession stand food, he has been disturbingly lax about protecting his constituents’ pocketbooks. Despite the fiscally conservative rhetoric he has used when attacking welfare programs both in his state and on the national level, Christie’s personal ethics when it comes to public finances are at best highly questionable.
All that is left now for Christie-watchers is to wait until his second term expires in 2018, at which point the once-momentous New Jersey governor will fade into the obscurity in which he belongs.
Matt Rozsa is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University, as well as a political columnist. His editorials have been published on Salon, the Good Men Project, Mic, MSNBC, and various college newspapers and blogs. Matt actively encourages people to reach out to him at email@example.com.
Photo via DonkeyHotey/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)