Christie officials give $82 million subsidy to NBA team whose execs made big campaign contributions

By David Sirota , written on June 11, 2014

From The News Desk

UPDATE: A Republican state senator in New Jersey is now slamming Christie for the $82 million subsidy to the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers.

Gov. Chris Christie's administration yesterday announced an $82 million taxpayer subsidy for a practice facility for the Philadelphia 76ers in impoverished Camden, New Jersey. The move comes weeks after Christie pled poverty to justify reneging on actuarially required pension payments. It also comes a few years after Christie officials pled poverty to justify huge cuts to police funding in crime-ridden Camden. And, as Pando has now learned, the grant follows the NBA team's investors making major campaign contributions - some to Christie's reelection campaign and some to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which is run by Christie and has financially supported his gubernatorial campaigns.

For example, IRS documents show that Joshua Harris of the Apollo Management Group has made $50,000 worth of contributions to the RGA. One of those contributions for $25,000 came only months after Christie was named vice chairman of the RGA. The NBA's website and Apollo's website list Harris as one of the owners of the Sixers.

Similarly, IRS documents show Martin Geller of the financial advisory firm Geller & Company has given $20,000 worth of contributions to the RGA since 2009. One of Geller's $10,000 contributions came in early 2009, when the RGA was gearing up to support Christie's first run for governor. The $20,000 from Geller to the RGA is on top of $28,000 Geller has given to New Jersey politicians, according to New Jersey campaign finance disclosures. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Geller of Geller & Company is a major investor in the Sixers.

New Jersey campaign finance disclosures show a David B. Heller of New York gave Gov. Christie's reelection campaign a $3,800 contribution in 2013. Bloomberg News reports that a David B. Heller "became a part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers" after leaving Goldman Sachs.

This is only the latest news of the Christie-controlled New Jersey Economic Development Authority delivering a multi-million subsidy to firms connected to political donors. In April, Pando began reporting on other such examples. After those original revelations, the Guardian found two more, and credited Pando with uncovering the pattern. The Guardian reported at the time that though New Jersey has some of the toughest pay-to-play laws in America, the New Jersey government interprets those laws to not cover subsidies.

The choice of location for the new $82 million NBA subsidy is particularly significant. The money will be spent in Camden - the city where the Christie administration's budget cuts have resulted in major reductions of the police force. Apparently, though, Christie officials believe there's plenty of money to spend in Camden on an NBA team.

Of course, the Christie administration justifies the $82 million subsidy to the NBA team by saying it will create 250 jobs. However, assuming that's true, the state will be spending $328,000 per job.

That eye-popping number is consistent with a new report this morning from the watchdog group New Jersey Policy Perspectives which finds that in the last few years, "the cost of a job tied to a subsidy award has nearly tripled" in New Jersey. The same report finds that in just the last 4 years, the Christie administration has doled out a record $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies. That includes $1 billion in just the time since Christie was reelected in 2013. That compares to a total of $1.2 billion in subsidies in the entire 10 years before 2010.

Pando contacted the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, Apollo Management, Geller and Company and Gov. Christie's office for comment Tuesday afternoon. They did not respond to the requests for comment.

UPDATE: A Republican state senator in New Jersey is now slamming Christie for the $82 million subsidy to the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers. According to PolitickerNJ, State Senator Mike Doherty (R) criticized the “free gift from the hard-pressed taxpayers of New Jersey” to the owners of the team. In a statement, Doherty said: “Governor Christie states that we have an $800 million budget shortfall. Then why is New Jersey providing an $82 million gift for a billionaire?...Why are we opening up the money spigot to take care of a billionaire? How can New Jersey not make this year’s full pension payment, but the state government can find an extra $82 million for a basketball practice facility?”

Screenshots of public documents (addresses redacted):