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Gov. Chris Christie in September 2013, after a fire destroyed dozens of businesses along an iconic Jersey Shore boardwalk
Adding a headache for Gov. Chris Christie, a federal agency will investigate whether New Jersey improperly spent Hurricane Sandy relief money on an ad campaign that featured the governor while he was running for re-election, a lawmaker said Monday.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will audit $25 million in federal money that the state spent to promote tourism and the Jersey Shore, said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey. Pallone is a Democrat, Christie a Republican.
The news came as state lawmakers announced they would form a special investigative committee, with subpoena power and a counsel, to look into why Christie’s office ordered lanes closed at the George Washington Bridge and engineered a massive traffic jam in the city of Fort Lee as an apparent act of political retribution.
“If there’s abuse of power, we want to know about it,” said the incoming speaker of the state Assembly, Vincent Prieto.
In the Sandy matter, Pallone wrote to HUD investigators in August after documents showed the state had agreed to pay $4.7 million to a marketing company that proposed developing the ads and including the governor in them.
Another company had proposed a $2.5 million campaign that did not include the governor, Pallone said.
The ads, which featured Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, ran on television last year, while Christie was cruising to re-election over state Sen. Barbara Buono.
“We had to fight hard to get the Sandy aid package passed by assuring others in Congress the funding was desperately needed and would be spent responsibly,” Pallone said in a statement.
A spokesman for Christie, Colin Reed, said that federal reviews are routine to make sure money is distributed fairly.
“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 spokesman also pointed reporters to a poll showing that most people in New Jersey supported the governor’s appearing in the ad, and to an article by a prominent conservative publication, National Review, questioning the timing of the HUD audit.
The audit of the Sandy money should take several months, Pallone said.
A HUD spokesman confirmed the audit and said it followed a request from Congress. The spokesman declined to elaborate.
Mario Tama / Getty Images
Residents of the Northeast are still picking up the pieces after Superstorm Sandy.
This story was originally published on Mon Jan 13, 2014 8:58 AM EST