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A federal agency is auditing how New Jersey spent $25 million in Hurricane Sandy relief funds that were used in a marketing campaign to promote the Jersey Shore, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development told the Gazette Monday.
“We have received a request from Congress and are performing an audit,” HUD spokesman Ian O’Connor said. He declined to comment further.
At issue, according to Democratic U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, is the bidding process for the marketing campaign.
The Stronger than the Storm marketing campaign featured Gov. Chris Christie and his family promoting the Jersey Shore in an effort to let people know that despite Hurricane Sandy, shore towns and businesses were open for summer.
Pallone suggests that the Stronger than the Storm campaign may have benefited Christie in the November gubernatorial race.
In an Aug. 8 letter to HUD Inspector General David Montoya, Pallone said the winning firm billed the state $4.7 million for the work.
Pallone claims that another marketing firm bid $2.5 million for similar work. However, the winning firm’s proposal featured Christie in the advertisements, whereas the lower bidder’s did not.
“As you know, the governor is running for re-election this year in a high-profile race,” Pallone wrote. “It is inappropriate for taxpayer-funded dollars that are critical to our state’s recovery from this natural disaster to fund commercials that could potentially benefit a political campaign.”
According to CNN, the Christie administration stated that the Stronger than the Storm campaign was part of an action plan approved by President Barack Obama to promote tourism to the shore.
“Federal agency reviews are routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly,” Christie’s office said in the statement, CNN reported. “We're confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history.”
The governor came under fire last Wednesday after the Bergen County Record reported that some of his top staffers had ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September that turned the town of Fort Lee into a parking lot for four days.
Emails and text messages subpoenaed by Democratic legislators investigating the closures and obtained by the Record and other media outlets suggest that the closures were to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor for declining to endorse Christie in the governor’s race.
The Assembly committee investigating the matter has yet to determine whether the closures were political retribution or not, and published reports have stated that the U.S. attorney in New Jersey has also launched a probe into the closings.
Christie held a two-hour press conference Thursday, during which he announced that he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, for her actions. He said he had no knowledge of his staff’s actions, but ultimately took responsibility for their actions.