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Christie Campaign Costs Topping $1 Million May Fall To N.J. Taxpayers

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets round-the-clock protection regardless of where he is or the nature of his travels. As many as four state troopers, like the one seen here in New Jersey, accompany the governor when he travels to campaign.
Mel Evans
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets round-the-clock protection regardless of where he is or the nature of his travels. As many as four state troopers, like the one seen here in New Jersey, accompany the governor when he travels to campaign.

Security costs incurred by state troopers who accompanied Gov. Chris Christie out of New Jersey for 261 days last year could be more than $1 million, according to NPR member station WNYC's analysis, but the governor's spokesman and the state police are not detailing the total nor who is picking up the tab.

Christie is afforded around-the-clock protection regardless of where he is or the nature of his travels. But security for trips out of state cost significantly more than the governor's in-state business. Those trips include expenses for hotel rooms, gas, cellphones, $70-per-trooper daily payments for meals and wear-and-tear for at least two state-owned SUVs (Christie uses New Jersey state vehicles in New Hampshire and rents cars in Iowa).

Christie travels with a detail of as many as four state troopers from the New Jersey State Police Executive Protection Unit and at least one officer assigned to him by the state he's visiting. When the governor flies to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state where he is centering his presidential campaign, one trooper typically accompanies him on the plane while others go to the state a day in advance to scout travel routes and the locations of nearby hospitals.

Accounting for security costs is difficult because campaign filings made with the Federal Elections Commission do not detail all expenses, like the identities of those staying in hotel rooms. And the Christie campaign put about $340,000 in disbursements on credit cards for its most recent October filing, which effectively concealed small charges — like gas — from direct reporting.

It is possible that Christie's presidential campaign is reimbursing the state police for expenses incurred in the course of the presidential campaign, although that would be a shift in Christie's approach. He has previously defended using his security detail on political trips.

Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts wouldn't answer several questions about how tax dollars might be used, citing a pending lawsuit from liberal groups in New Jersey that say Christie is violating his fiduciary responsibility by spending so much on his campaign. Roberts referred questions to the state police, but Lt. Brian Polite also didn't respond.

Roberts also did not say whether the state troopers are eligible for overtime. Christie's days on the campaign trail can stretch beyond 12 hours, and base salaries for his officers run high. One former trooper assigned to Christie earned nearly $90,000 a year, plus benefits.

Christie's presidential campaign did not reply to a request for comment.

WNYC previously filed suit to get the costs incurred by Christie's travels, but judges have ruled that details about spending — including the names of the hotels — could jeopardize Christie's safety.

Last year a journalist whose blog is called NJ Watchdog obtained documents on $492,420 in travel expenses for Christie's security for 2014. If daily costs were the same in 2015, Christie's travel costs for security would work out to be around $946,961. Salaries paid to troopers for their time out of state would then inch the total to more than $1 million.

NJ Watchdog's efforts to obtain more specific details about the state troopers' security costs, like names of hotels, were rejected by an appellate court after a state police captain swore that the information could harm the governor. But Christie himself mentions the name of the hotel he stays at in Manchester, N.H., as part of his campaign stump speech.

Not all of Christie's travel in 2015 was political — he vacationed in California, for example, and visited his daughter in college in Indiana. But most of it was. Although he didn't declare his candidacy until June 30, he was making policy speeches and raising money for a political action committee that supports his presidential run in the beginning of the year.

If Christie is relying on tax dollars to support his campaign travel, he has a benefit for his relatively underfunded campaign that most of his rivals don't have.

Other candidates' campaigns pay for security, and although former presidential candidate Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, had his political operation refundWisconsin for travel security costs, he dropped out out of the race because he ran out of money. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has, like Christie, refused to talk about his security costs, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has since exited the race, courted controversy for charging his out-of-state protection to taxpayers.

Exactly where Christie spent dozens of days out of state in 2015 is also in question. A comprehensive review of Christie's public government schedule, campaign schedule and media appearances found that the governor was out of New Jersey for 219 days last year. But The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the administration says he wasn't in New Jersey for all or part of 261 days — 72 percent of the year.

Roberts said he could not immediately explain the disparity nor why the press was not notified, through the daily schedules emailed to reporters, when the governor left the state for dozens of days. Christie does not release his calendar after the fact, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo does, and WNYC last year lost a lawsuit to obtain his governmental calendars.

On 71 days last year, Christie was in New York and Pennsylvania, according to the administration, often for media appearances or to raise funds. The governor's office does not consider trips to neighboring states as out-of-town travel, and typically does not disclose those trips to the media.

Christie regularly uses a state police helicopter for campaign-related activities, like going across the Hudson River for national TV interviews. But his campaign has reimbursed the state police for those trips.

Christie's extensive absence has had noticeable effects on the governance of New Jersey, according to legislative and lobbyist sources. The pension system and transportation roadway repair fund no longer have reliable funding mechanisms, and Christie does not appear to be in active negotiations toward solving those problems. Christie's two most prominent Cabinet members — the attorney general and the treasurer — are serving in acting capacities because they have neither been confirmed nor formally nominated by Christie. The Supreme Court is missing a justice — Christie hasn't even nominated anyone. Much of the nitty-gritty deal-making needed to get stuff done is just not happening.

Even when public schedules indicate Christie is in the state, he generally does not appear in public. He skipped two funerals for police officers in December on days when he apparently was in New Jersey. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno went in his place.

Christie's travel has become a cause of concern for New Jerseyans, polls show. A Monmouth University poll in July showed that just 1 percent of New Jerseyans think the government should cover the costs for his security detail when he leaves the state.

Christie's extended absences from New Jersey has also become a hot issue on the presidential campaign trail. Christie slammed candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for missing votes at the Capitol ("Dude, show up to work"), to which Rubio responded: "Chris Christie is a funny guy, but he's never in New Jersey. He's gone half the time."

Copyright 2016 WNYC Radio

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