Bloomberg News

Christie Comes Clean on Trips as N.J. Governor Seeks Donations

October 03, 2011

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s bid to raise money nationwide for Republicans as he considers a presidential run is forcing him to divulge details on out-of- state trips that he had previously kept secret.

Christie, 49, has made at least 35 political appearances outside New Jersey since he took office in January 2010, according to a review of his public schedule, published reports and Republican State Committee finance records filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Those trips became a political issue after Christie’s June attendance at a private Colorado gathering hosted by the Tea- Party-backing Koch brothers came to light. Christie, who pledged a “new era of transparency” in his inaugural address, didn’t notify the public or legislative leaders that he left the state that day. New Jersey has no formal notification process for when a governor travels.

“The governor needs to recognize that he has a responsibility to the people of New Jersey to at least assure for the orderly transfer of power if he does decide to leave the state,” said state Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Teaneck who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor as Jon Corzine’s running mate in the 2009 election won by Christie.

Weinberg, 76, introduced legislation on Sept. 22 that would require a governor to give written notice to legislative leaders whenever he transfers power to the lieutenant governor.

Political Travel

Weinberg, who Christie said reporters should “take a bat” to in April for collecting both a public pension and a paycheck as a legislator, joined other Democrats who criticized Christie’s travel to raise money for Republicans. Democrats control both houses of New Jersey’s Legislature, and all 120 seats are up for election in November.

Since taking office, Christie has headlined fundraisers in states including New York and Pennsylvania, and built up a wellspring of support in his party as he campaigns for Republicans from Massachusetts to New Mexico. Donors from Florida to Colorado helped drive a 12-fold increase in financing from other states for the New Jersey Republican party this year.

Christie last week took a national fundraising trip paid for by party organizations in New Jersey, Louisiana and Missouri, said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the New Jersey Republican State Committee. He declined to say what the trips cost or raised. Public records aren’t yet available.

Increasing Pressure

Christie has said repeatedly that he would “have to commit suicide” to convince people he won’t seek higher office in 2012. While on last week’s trip, he came under increasing pressure to change his mind after Texas Governor Rick Perry, a presidential candidate, stumbled in a Sept. 22 debate, said a Republican close to Christie who declined to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak for him.

During a Sept. 27 speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Christie assailed President Barack Obama as a “bystander in the Oval Office.” He also spoke on domestic and foreign policy, politics and national defense. When asked by an audience member if he would run, Christie pointed to video clips on the Politico website of him saying he wouldn’t be a candidate.

Now back in New Jersey, Christie is actively considering entering the race and may make a decision within days, a Republican donor who asked not to be identified said Sept. 30. Christie, appearing at a military awards event yesterday in Sea Girt, didn’t respond to questions about whether he would run.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment on whether Christie was considering a bid for president. Gorka also declined to comment.

Koch Trip

The New Jersey Republican committee paid $63,000 for a chartered jet to fly Christie to a closed-door seminar June 26 near Vail, Colorado, public election records show. The event was sponsored by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire oilmen, and Christie’s participation became public only when the magazine Mother Jones posted a secret recording of his speech to its website Sept. 7.

Christie’s use of campaign contributions for political travel should enter “the area of full disclosure,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski of Sayreville, chairman of the New Jersey Democratic Party.

“It’s really just a fundraising ploy,” Wisniewski said in a Sept. 29 phone interview. “No one is ever going to pay big bucks in September or October to meet with a governor from another state unless they think maybe he’s going to run.”

‘All Politics’

Christie said the outcry over his trips is “all politics.” He told reporters in September that Weinberg never raised concerns about his predecessor Corzine, who used to sleep in New York “four nights a week, five nights a week.”

Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman, Sachs & Co. who traveled often to Europe and the Hamptons on Long Island, was out of state for all or part of about one-fourth of his first 15 months in office, the New York Times reported after a review of transfer-of-power letters to then-Senate President Richard Codey, who was second in command.

The tally didn’t include stays at the Manhattan home of Corzine’s then-girlfriend, Sharon Elghanayan. A 2006 letter to Corzine’s office from the attorney general at the time, Zulima Farber, said no transfer-of-power notice was necessary for “an occasional, overnight stay in New York City,” the Times said.

New Jersey created a lieutenant governor position starting with the 2009 election. Christie’s policy is to send letters to legislative leaders and his lieutenant, Republican Kim Guadagno, if he’ll be out of state overnight, he told reporters. If the trip is “intraday,” whether it be to Philadelphia or to Colorado, he doesn’t send letters, he said.

‘Zone of Privacy’

Christie, during his September radio show, said public figures are entitled to a “zone of privacy” and that he won’t disclose every meeting or trip if he doesn’t believe doing so is warranted.

“I have the ability on the weekend to go and travel to where I want and do what I want to do, and if it doesn’t involve my job I’m not going to announce it,” Christie said.

The view contrasts with former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who often traveled for personal reasons and announced whenever he left the state, though the location wasn’t always described. Governor Jerry Brown does the same.

The protocol that Christie follows in charging the party for political trips isn’t new, Drewniak said in an e-mail.

“The state party pays for costs associated with political travel, which is the long-held practice of governors of both parties,” Drewniak said.

Party Benefits

The policy was formalized in a Dec. 20, 1993, opinion from the Election Law Enforcement Commission to the Republican State Committee, according to a letter Gorka provided to Bloomberg News. The letter declared the governor the leader of the party, and stated the party, not taxpayers or a campaign fund, was the “proper and appropriate organization to defray such expenses.”

“Donors, whether it’s in New Jersey or outside of the state, support the accomplishments of the governor and Republicans in the Legislature,” Gorka said. “If the governor increases his own profile, it benefits the party here in New Jersey.”

Because Christie isn’t a declared candidate for president, he is allowed under current laws to use contributions to the state party as an unlimited and unregulated source of money to bankroll political travel, said Craig Holman, who tracks ethics, lobbying and campaign-finance issues for Public Citizen, a nonpartisan Washington-based group that advocates for public funding of presidential campaigns.

Federal Rules

Other sitting politicians with aspiration to higher office have done the same thing, including Perry, who announced his run in August. Declared candidates must pay travel bills from accounts subject to Federal Election Commission rules.

“That’s why many people delay declaring their candidacy, so they can tap into this unregulated source of money,” Holman said.

“Christie is a potential presidential candidate,” Holman said in a Sept. 29 interview. “This could be a great source of funds to promote his presidential aspirations without having any impact on state party development or state politics.”

--With assistance from Terrence Dopp in Trenton and Michael B. Marois in Sacramento. Editors: Stacie Servetah, William Glasgall

To contact the reporter on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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