Revealed: Gov. Christie pleads pension poverty while handing huge subsidies to his major political donors
Yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made headlines by slamming his state's legislators for supposedly paying police and firefighters too much.
“They want to give away more of your money," thundered Christie.
The irony of the complaint coming from Christie is strong. The Christie administration has been spending record amounts of taxpayer money on corporate subsidies at the exact same time as he claims New Jersey doesn't have enough money to make required public pension payments.
In short, Christie is using money that should be going to fulfill pension promises to instead pay for large corporate gifts - and not just random gifts, either. A Pando analysis of campaign finance data has found that Christie is giving those huge taxpayer-financed corporate subsidies to some of his major political benefactors.
Looting pensions to pay for gifts to campaign donors
In 2012, a year after Christie pled poverty to justify skipping a pension payment, his New Jersey Economic Development Authority passed a $210 million tax subsidy for insurance firm Prudential. The Authority is chaired by Christie appointee and former utility executive, Al Koeppe, and, as of 2012, its chief of staff is Christie's top aide, Michele Brown.
According to Internal Revenue Service documents (embedded below), Prudential is a major donor to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). According to the Wall Street Journal, that organization has spent roughly $9 million supporting Christie. Christie has also acted as the association's chair and vice-chair.
During Christie's first run for governor, Prudential gave the RGA $25,000. Then, in 2012, weeks after the Christie administration delivered Prudential its $210 million subsidy, the firm gave the RGA an additional $75,000. This donation came while Christie was vice-chair of the organization.
In 2013, while Christie was running for reelection, Prudential handed the RGA another $25,000. On top of that, according to New Jersey campaign contribution records, Prudential employees have also donated more than $10,000 to Christie's campaigns. Additionally, Prudential is also listed as a $1-million-plus donor to Christie's wife Hurricane Sandy relief charity, which has faced questions about whether it has been unduly used as a political instrument for Christie.
Similarly, in 2012, as Christie pled poverty to justify not fully funding the state's pension, his Economic Development Authority backed a $37 million tax subsidy for Cablevision.
According to IRS documents data, Cablevision's holding company, CSC Holdings, LLC, subsequently made a $25,000 contribution to the RGA in the midst of Christie's reelection campaign.
Then there's Allergan, which received a $14.9 million subsidy from the Christie administration. According to IRS documents, Allergan gave the Republican Governors Association $100,000 during Christie's 2009 election campaign, $50,000 when he was vice-chair of the organization in 2012, $100,000 when he was running for reelection in 2013 and another $100,000 in 2014 during Christie's first few months as chairman of the group.
The handouts to these RGA donors represent just a few of the subsidies that cost New Jersey taxpayers more than a half billion dollars a year, according to the New York Times. In each case, the Christie administration took money that could have been devoted to shoring up the state's pension fund and instead used it to enrich corporate interests that finance Christie's political infrastructure.
Christie & RGA respond
In response to Pando's investigation, a spokesman for Gov. Christie, Kevin Roberts, declined to comment on the campaign contributions from companies that were awarded large contracts from the Christie administration. Regarding the refusal of the administration to fully fund the state's pensions, he said that Christie has made "a larger cumulative total of contributions to the pension system than any other prior Governor in state history" and added that the pension system is "unsustainable and needs to be changed if we are to meet those obligations and also fund other priorities that the Governor and public support."
Additionally, when asked about any potential connection between massive contributions to the RGA and huge New Jersey taxpayer deals to RGA contributors, RGA spokesperson Jon Thompson told Pando: "There is no connection. The RGA raises funds to elect and support Republican governors. We accept a large amount of donations from many individuals and entities across the country because they support the pro-jobs, pro-growth agendas 29 Republican governors are delivering for their states."
Christie new move to expand the subsidies and further cut pensions
Thanks for a recent change in the law, Christie will now have even more authority to raid pensions to finance such giveaways. The governor has just signed a bill which, according to the Newark Star-Ledger, "lifts limits on how much the state can give out in economic incentives to corporations and developers, and greatly expands the geographic areas where companies can qualify." That bill to spend more on corporate subsidies is going into effect at precisely the moment Christie is now renewing his call for more cuts to public workers' retirement benefits.
Is this a tactic to court prospective donors by holding out the hope of huge new taxpayer subsidies effectively paid for with money that should be going to the pension system? It is difficult to know, but consider this: Christie's pension and subsidy moves come precisely the moment he is beginning to court donors for a prospective presidential campaign, and at the very moment he is demanding and end to all limits on the size of campaign contributions.
The new revelations surface just one day after Pando broke the news that a huge New Jersey pension deal went to a firm connected to one of Gov. Chris Christie's top presidential campaign advisers, who heads the state's pension investment board. They also come less than two weeks after we exposed a similar diversion of money obligated to Chicago's state pensioners into massive corporate subsidies, which benefited campaign donors of that city's mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
* * * *Documents cited in this report:
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