New Jersey governor and unabashed loudmouth Chris Christie is no stranger to scandal. He may or may not have known about Bridgegate, but way before his cronies decided to punish Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid in 2013, his past was littered with controversies, conflicts of interest, and lawsuits, so much so that it torpedoed his chances of becoming Mitt Romney’s running mate a year earlier.
1. He had ties to Bernie Madoff.
One part of Christie’s biography that he’s likely to gloss over in his announcement speech is his years spent as a lobbyist, representing the Securities Industry Association, where he was successful in getting securities exempted from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. At the time, Bernie Madoff — mastermind behind what’s considered the largest financial fraud in the country — was a top SIA official.
2. Dubya and Karl Rove got him to where he is today.
Christie raised so much money for George W. Bush in 2000 — about $350,000 — that he became known as a “pioneer,” using his personal networks to help Bush win the presidency. In return, Bush appointed him U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, a move that was nakedly cronyist since Christie had no experience in criminal law, and Karl Rove was essential to Christie’s appointment. His term as U.S. Attorney paved the way for his run for governor — and from there, he set his sights on the presidency.
3. He was sued for libel and found guilty.
While running for a seat on the Morris County Freeholder Board (a county legislative position much like a city council), he ran an ad that said his opponents were being investigated by the county prosecutor — a blatant lie.
According to political journalist Olivia Nuzzi, writing in Politico, the commercial ran 400 times during the Devils-Rangers Stanley Cup playoff series and during CNN Headline News. In it, sitting next to his wife and infant son, Christie proclaims that he entered this race “for the promise of a better future for my family and yours,” and then the words “Supports Strict Ethics Code” appear as the camera zooms into his face.
He successfully ousted his opponent — and then was served with a lawsuit for libel. He appealed the guilty verdict, but was forced to apologize publicly, in the pages of The Daily Record, in 1996.
4. He’s weaselly about science.
Chris Christie has what you might call a complicated relationship with science. Betraying an utter lack of both intellectual honesty and curiosity, he bends to political winds, shifting his official position on issues such as climate change and the efficacy of vaccines, based not on the most recent study or expert advice, but on whatever seems to be most expedient for his political prospects at that moment.
In the case of global warming, he flirted with denialism, saying as recently as 2010 that he was a “little skeptical,” and that he needed “more science” to be convinced. “To be honest with you, I don’t know,” Christie said at the time. “I can’t figure this stuff out.”
In 2011, he was unequivocal, stating that “climate change is real,” and that “human activity plays a role in these changes.” He affirmed, “When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”
Christie has more or less held this line ever since, asserting this year that he believed “global warming is real,” but — so as not to worry conservatives who loathe environmental regulation — he said that there was little point in the U.S. moving forward to curb climate change on its own.
Regarding vaccines, Christie again hedged his bets. When the bogus controversy over anti-vaxxers broke out earlier this year, he said that while he vaccinated his kids, he didn’t think it was right to compel parents, whose views might differ, to do the same, because “parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
5. He doesn’t want anyone to know what really goes on in government.
Despite many laws that require public officials to release documents pertaining to official business, Christie has repeatedly denied requests for such information. The Record, the ACLU, and the Asbury Park Press have all sued the governor and his administration — some of them multiple times — for failing to disclose information on a broad range of topics, including state police policies, emails regarding Bridgegate, and the governor’s travel expenses (see below).
WNYC’s Christie Tracker lists 18 separate incidents — as of January 2014 — when the governor’s office refused to release information. As of August 2014, according to The Record, Christie’s administration was involved in more than 20 simultaneous lawsuits for keeping government documents out of the public eye. North Jersey Media Group alone had eight pending lawsuits against the administration at the time.
Christie won’t even release copies of his calendar or visitors’ logs. (It is common practice for governors and the president to make such logs publicly available.)
“They’re putting up any roadblock they can,” said North Jersey Media Group General Counsel Jennifer Borg to the Associated Press, describing “a pattern and practice of thwarting” access that prevented reporters from obtaining even basic documents, such as payroll records.
According to Republican operative Roger Stone, Christie’s arrogance and cover-up tactics recall Nixon’s during Watergate.
6. His administration mismanaged Superstorm Sandy relief funds.
Although widely praised in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy (and criticized by Republicans for embracing President Obama), he wasn’t the effective leader his bluster touted. The Fair Share Housing Center, as a result of an Open Public Records Act request, found that 79 percent of applicants whose housing aid applications were rejected were actually qualified. A state official blamed it on FEMA, saying that the rejections were based on “inaccurate damage assessment data.”
The contractor hired to distribute relief funds, Hammerman and Gainer, Inc., had contributed $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association, through their New Jersey-based attorneys at Capehart Scatchard. The RGA, of which Christie was chairman in 2014, then contributed almost $2 million to his re-election campaign, according to the Daily Beast. That contractor was later fired, although details were scant.
They were hardly the only firms to give money to the Republican Governors Association — four other companies hired by the state in the aftermath of Sandy donated more than $110,000, according to Internal Revenue Service disclosures reported by The Record.
Furthermore, $6 million in Sandy funds were allocated to a housing project in the Essex County township of Belleville that had been conceived years before the storm struck. Despite its downed trees and power outages, Belleville was not severely affected enough to displace residents. But shortly after the funding was announced, the town’s Democratic mayor formally endorsed Christie — part of a statewide pattern of quid quo pro and high-level blackmail that finally blew up in Christie’s face with Bridgegate.
Christie was also the subject of an investigation to see whether he misused federal funds to appear in a state tourism ad. Instead of giving the job to the lowest bidder, the “Stronger Than the Storm” ads were produced by the East Rutherford PR firm MWW, which had proposed that Christie appear in them, ostensibly as a way to introduce him to out-of-staters who could potentially vote for him for president. MWW’s competitors did not offer to feature Christie. MWW, whose logo graces a tall building seen from both Route 3 and the New Jersey Turnpike, is a politically connected agency that has donated to both parties, according to details published by the Asbury Park Press.
7. He lied about pension reform.
When Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, he assured the state’s police officers and firefighters that, “Nothing will change for the pensions of current officers, future officers or retirees in a Christie administration.”
“It is a sacred trust,” Christie said at the time.
The intervening six years have shown just how little that “sacred trust” is worth to the Garden State governor, who signed legislation in 2011 raising public employees’ pension contributions and curbing their benefits, while, in return, requiring the state to make regular payments into the system. Christie’s office failed to deliver those payments — a move that a judge later ruled unlawful — driving the pension system even deeper into debt.
Three years later, Christie turned around and tried to sell public employees and legislators the same bill of goods, part of an effort to close the state’s budget gap, casting an unwelcome spotlight on the fiscal disasters that have occurred on his watch.
8. He likes everyone else — including taxpayers — to pick up his bills.
Despite cultivating an image as a outspoken soldier for fiscal austerity, Christie has treated himself to the best things in life — often letting others pick up the tab, including New Jersey taxpayers.
According to a report published earlier this year, the governor had blown nearly $1 million in travel expenses, whether he was touring the country in his capacity as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, or just swinging down to Dallas to catch a Cowboys game. This tally didn’t even include the cost of paying overtime for a New Jersey state troopers’ security detail. All told, the governor spent 137 days in 2014 out of the state
New Jersey Watchdog found that in five years he spent $300,000 of his state-funded allowance on “food, alcohol, and desserts.”
The New York Times did an overview of the governor’s penchant for living the luxurious life, flying in private jets and staying in five-star hotels, on the largesse of the likes of Sheldon Adelson and King Abdullah of Jordan. The Times also reported that New Jersey taxpayers paid for Christie and his family to fly down to New Orleans for the 2013 Super Bowl.
In perhaps the biggest slap in the face, according to the Wall Street Journal, Christie’s administration doled out $7.6 million to pay a phalanx of highly paid attorneys to defend the governor and his staff against federal prosecutors investigating the Bridgegate scandal. It’s not bad enough that New Jersey commuters got used as pawns in the sick administrative power play at Fort Lee; they have to pay through the nose to make sure Christie gets away with it.
Screenshot: Chris Christie, from a 1994 ad running for a seat on the Morris County Freeholder Board. Comments he made here were found to be libelous. (lhfang86 via Youtube)