By Elaine Magliaro
On Tuesday, Mark Lagerkvist of New Jersey Watchdog reported that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had refused “to release nearly $800,000 in American Express credit card bills for the travel costs of his state police security detail.” Lagervist said that Christie’s staff had “rejected a New Jersey Watchdog reporter’s request for the monthly statements, contending releasing the records would jeopardize Christie’s safety.” He added that the denial followed a New Jersey Watchdog report last week, which revealed the travel costs of the Executive Protection Unit (EPU) had “grown by 1,800 percent since Christie became governor in 2010.” According to state records, the expenses “totaled $959,856, not including unreleased expense information for the fourth quarter of last year.”
New Jersey spent nearly $1 million on travel expenses for its state police Executive Protection Unit during Christie’s four years and nine months as governor, according to documents obtained under the Open Public Records Act. Last year, Christie traveled out-of-state on more than 100 days while visiting 36 states, Mexico and Canada, primarily on personal and political trips that were not official state business.
The current average monthly travel costs to protect Christie for a single month are 50 percent more than former Gov. Jon Corzine’s entire final year in office, according to state records. For 2009, EPU’s expenses were only $21,704 – compared with $32,933 per month for the first three quarters of 2014.
Most of Christie’s trips were taken “primarily to help raise $106 million in campaign contributions as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.”
It was Christie’s trips to Dallas Cowboys football games earlier this month that had raised questions about gifts that Christie had received from Jerry Jones, the team’s owner, and concerns about the expense to New Jersey taxpayers for “protecting the governor wherever he goes.” In an editorial, Asbury Park Press said that Christie’s “reckless travel expenses” had been a story for quite some time—“but came to a head recently when cameras caught Christie getting the VIP treatment with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at a playoff game in Texas.”
According to Lagervist, more than 80% of the EPU travel expenses had been charged “to one or more American Express credit cards used by the governor’s office, which later sought reimbursement by the state police. Presumably, those bills include transportation, lodging, meals and other costs.”
Lagervist said that the “dramatic increase in EPU travel costs” coincided “with the political rise of an ambitious governor considering a run for the White House in the 2016 election”:
- EPU expenses jumped by 300 percent to $64,975 during 2010, Christie’s first year as governor. The following year, it doubled to $129,842.
- The bill shot upwards to $248,277 in 2012 as Christie crisscrossed the country to campaign for Mitt Romney and others, highlighted by his nationally-televised keynote speech at the GOP National Convention in Tampa. In 2013, the figure dipped to $220,355.
- EPU travel costs accelerated to $296,404 for the first nine months of 2014 while Christie traveled extensively as chair of the Republican Governors Association to raise political contributions.
In the letter denying New Jersey Watchdog’s request, records custodian Heather Taylor said, “We are unable to provide you with the detail from the American Express card monthly statements from February 2010 through September 2014 because the monthly statements indicate the names of the Executive Protection Unit members, the number of Executive Protection Unit members and the location of these members on a day-to-day basis.”
Lagervist said that “rather than black out the names of the officers, Christie’s office seeks to withhold all of the American Express records from public disclosure.”
Bob Jordan of Asbury Park Press reported that the New Jersey governor “spent all or part of approximately 140 days” outside of the state last year.
Christie went to Mexico in September and Canada in December. Some costs were to be covered by Choose NJ, a state economic development group that’s also sponsoring the U.K. trip.
A four-day trip to the Middle East in 2012 left taxpayers on the hook for $39,871 to cover expenses for seven state troopers and contract security.
The bills to taxpayers for the Mexico and Canada trips were supposed to be made publicly available when those trips were completed, but administration officials did not respond to a request for that information Wednesday.
Jordan added that the total cost of the governor’s “heavy travel schedule have been elusive.”
Lagervist noted that the EPU travel expenses didn’t “include the troopers’ overtime pay.” He said that data is “kept secret under a rule adopted by the Christie administration.” He noted that the regulation “assumes release of the information could somehow jeopardize the safety of the governor and his protectors if revealed.” Lagervist added that the expenses also do not include “the cost of state police vehicles and helicopters used to transport the governor and his entourage.”
Excerpt from an Asbury Park Press Editorial:
Gov. Chris Christie wants to hide how much taxpayer money he’s spending on his own travel. That’s why his administration is refusing to publicly release records of $800,000 worth of American Express card bills sought by New Jersey Watchdog.
Let’s be clear on that from the start. No amount of spin, denials or manufactured excuses change the fact that Christie is spending our money freely to stump for other Republicans across the country, and to lay the groundwork here and abroad for his own presidential campaign. There are no other noble reasons, no vital obligations of the job, no productive subtext benefiting New Jersey.
We deserve to know how much money we’re burning. Republican organizations and other friendlies may be footing part of the bill for certain trips, but those massive security details that accompany Christie on his travels don’t come cheap…
Do New Jersey taxpayers deserve to know how much their governor is spending as he stumps for other Republicans and lays the groundwork for his own presidential campaign? What do you think?
Christie withholds NJ credit card records on travel costs (New Jersey Watchdog)
Big ticket: Cost to protect Gov. Christie rises 1,800 percent (New Jersey Watchdog)
EDITORIAL: Christie should release data on travel tab (Asbury Park Press)