So I’m taking my vacation on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Normally, it would be an excellent chance to unwind, unplug, and leave politics behind for a while. Instead, I have returned to the Garden State just as a serious scandal may be percolating to the surface. Many in the country have seen New Jersey’s “Stronger Than The Storm” ads, encouraging folks to visit the state despite the damage done by Hurricane-Nor’easter Sandy (as an aside, LBI was badly affected by the storm, and it is receovering very, very nicely). In New Jersey itself, the ads are ubiquitous – as is the face of Governor Chris Christie, who proudly proclaims the motto as the commercial nears its end…and just happens to be running for re-election this November. Now, certainly the Governor can’t control the weather – and he most certainly wouldn’t wish for a storm to waylay his state close enough to his own re-election to create the need for these ads. However, the state can control the nature of the ads themselves, and that’s where things get…interesting. Here’s the word from the Asbury Park Press (emphasis added):
Republican Christie’s administration in April awarded the contract to MWW and a subcontractor, who are getting $4.7 million for employee compensation and markups to run the campaign. That’s more than $2 million over what the runner-up bidder planned to charge. The campaign, which includes TV commercials starring Christie and his family, is funded by tax dollars from the federal disaster aid package approved by Congress. The project is intended to promote tourism in the first summer after superstorm Sandy. Out of four bidders, the two finalists had different views on how the campaign should be run. MWW proposed putting Christie in the ads. The other bidder, a team headed by the Sigma Group, did not. MWW won the contract.
So, over $2 million in extra taxpayer money (from the nation’s taxpayers, mind you, not just New Jersey’s) went to an ad campaign that happened to ensure Governor Christie would be all over the TV in the middle of his re-election campaign. Then again, contracts like this don’t just get handed out on a whim, right? There would have to be a selection committee that would review things from an arms-length perspective, yes? Well…about that (Asbury Park Press)…
The panel was led by Michelle Brown, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Brown, 55, was Gov. Chris Christie’s appointments counsel for the first two years of his administration. Brown became head of the EDA last year, on Christie’s recommendation, at a salary of $225,000. Brown is a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey but resigned that post in 2009 amid controversy over a 2007 loan of $46,000 from Christie. The loan was given when Christie was a U.S. Attorney and she was a subordinate in his office. Christie’s failure to disclose the loan became an issue in his first gubernatorial campaign. The loan has since been repaid.
Uh oh. That doesn’t look good. Meanwhile, as for the rest of the panel…
The other voting members were Maureen Hassett, senior vice president/finance and development policy at the EDA; Sara Maffey-Duncan, deputy director in the Office of Recovery at the EDA; Melissa Orsen, chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; Gabrielle Gallagher, director of legal and regulatory matters at the Department of Community Affairs; Jackie Kemery, a procurement administrative analyst at the Department of the Treasury.
In other words, a majority of the panel were the aforementioned Brown, her subordinates, and a political appointee of Christie’s running mate. Yikes. This suddenly looks a lot worse. At present, this hasn’t gone much farther than the APP – which is half the reason I’m interrupting my vacation to post this. Should it get legs, only time will tell if the Governor is stronger than this storm.