Federal investigators have some questions for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his staff -- and it's not over the revenge traffic scandal that dominated last week's headlines. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general will investigate whether the governor's office improperly used federal aid money after superstorm Sandy for political gain, NBC News has confirmed.
As it turns out, an entirely different controversy can draw the scrutiny of federal investigators.
After the storm devastated parts of New Jersey in 2012, the state launched a public-relations campaign to encourage tourism, using taxpayer-financed, post-Sandy emergency funds. In all, the Christie administration spent $25 million on the ads.
But several agencies competed for the p.r. contract, and the Christie administration chose the firm that wanted to put the governor and his family in the commercials, which aired during Christie's re-election campaign. Indeed, there were other firms that submitted significantly lower bids, which were passed over. Those firms did not intend to include the governor's family in the televised commercials.
"This time, he's outdone himself," the Star-Ledger editorialized in August when the ads began airing. "This time, he siphoned off money that was intended for victims of Sandy to promote himself in a series of TV ads. That is a new low, one that should play prominently in his campaign for re-election."
The investigatory process was initiated by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who asked HUD's inspector general to examine whether the Christie administration misused disaster-relief funds. Pallone told CNN yesterday that the inspector general conducted a preliminary review of the spending and concluded that there was enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation into the state's use of federal funds.
The audit is expected to take several months.