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Citizen groups sue Christie over campaign security costs

By   /   August 21, 2015  /

Three citizen groups are suing Chris Christie in an effort to stop the New Jersey governor from using state funds to pay for the cost of security travel during out-of-state campaign trips as he runs for the White House.

New Jersey Working Families, BlueWaveNJ, New Jersey Citizen Action and six individual plaintiffs filed the suit Friday in Mercer County Superior Court. The complaint alleges Christie violated his fiduciary duty by failing to reimburse the State Treasury for the bills incurred by the state police Executive Protection Unit during his frequent political trips.

“Chris Christie cannot be allowed to run for president on the dime of New Jersey taxpayers,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families. “If Gov. Christie wants to continue his quixotic campaign, he should pay for it from his own campaign coffers instead of forcing hardworking taxpayers to foot the bill.”

Christie press secretary Kevin Roberts did not respond Friday afternoon to a request for comment.

The complaint estimates the state spent at least $100,000 in EPU travel expenses between April 14, 2015 and the present, including appearances by Christie in New Hampshire, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Iowa, Florida, South Carolina, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs are asking the court to force Christie and his campaign to reimburse the state.

EPU travel costs have soared with Christie’s political ambitions, totaling $1.3 million since he took office in 2010, according to New Jersey Watchdog’s analysis of documents obtained through the Open Public Records Act.

Last year, the travel costs for the state police’s Executive Protection Unit rose to a record high of $492,420. As chair of the Republican Governors Association, Christie attended events in 36 states to help raise $106 million in campaign contributions for GOP candidates.

Those travel expenses are 22 times higher than the $21,724 spent by EPU in 2009, Jon Corzine’s last year as governor.

EPU travel expenses increased at a rate of 66 percent during the first quarter of 2015, hitting $184,659 as Christie prepared for the formal announcement of his candidacy.

Overall, more than $1.1 million in travel costs were charged to American Express cards issued to the governor’s office. But Christie refused to release the Amex statements or other accounts of the expenditures.

Earlier this month, a court decided Christie can hide those records from the public. Based on secret evidence, Judge Mary C. Jacobson ruled that details of past expenses for food, lodging and transportation requested by New Jersey Watchdog could create a potential security risk for the governor in the future.

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly oppose Christie’s practice of sticking taxpayers with the travel bills of the state police escorts who follow him on the political trail, according to a Monmouth University poll.

Only one percent of the voters polled thought the state should pay, while 82 percent said Christie’s campaign should take responsibility for the out-of-state security costs. The same poll found 58 percent of New Jerseyans judged their governor as not honest or trustworthy.

But Christie won’t ask America Leads, his super PAC that has raised $11 million, to pay for extra public expenses created by his political ambitions. He refused to follow the lead of Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, a fellow governor and rival GOP candidate.

“We’re going to continue to conduct this in the same way I’ve always conducted it,” the governor told reporters in New Hampshire last month.

“Chris Christie’s campaign has misappropriated precious public dollars, and they must be returned to the taxpayers of New Jersey without delay,” said Mejia.