By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
As Chris Christie pursues his political fortunes outside New Jersey, state taxpayers were squeezed for nearly a half-million dollars last year to cover the travel costs of his security details.
The travel expenses for the state police Executive Protection Unit rose to a record $196,006 for the fourth quarter, according to records obtained from Christie’s office. The EPU is responsible for providing full-time security for the governor.
For 2014, EPU travel costs reached $492,420, also a new high. It is 22 times more than the $21,704 spent in 2009, former Gov. Jon Corzine’s last year in office.
The governor’s office would not respond to New Jersey Watchdog’s questions about the expenses. Instead, press secretary Kevin Roberts pointed to his previous statement: “These are the same standards and practices that every other former governor followed when it comes to their security detail.”
The dramatic increase in EPU expenses under Christie was first reported by New Jersey Watchdog in January.
As chair of the Republican Governors Association last year, Christie was away for more than 100 days to attend events in 36 states and help raise $106 million in campaign contributions for GOP candidates. While the RGA paid for Christie’s expenses, New Jersey taxpayers were stuck with the bills for the governor’s increased security costs.
The total for EPU travel in Christie’s first five years as governor exceeds $1.15 million. How most of that money was spent remains a mystery.
Almost 85 percent, or $975,000, was charged to American Express cards issued to the governor’s office. Troopers use those cards to charge transportation, lodging, meals and other expenses. On a quarterly basis, the governor’s office bills the state police for reimbursement.
Christie’s staff has refused to release the monthly Amex statements, arguing that details of past EPU expenditures could jeopardize the governor’s safety in the future. Without the records, it is impossible to determine how much of the cost is related to state business, as compared to his personal and political trips.
New Jersey Watchdog is suing the governor’s office for the Amex records in Mercer County Superior Court. A hearing is scheduled for May 28 before Judge Mary C. Jacobson. (Editor’s note: The reporter on this story, Mark Lagerkvist, is the plaintiff in the suit.)
The governor’s office contends release of the statements would identify troopers who have been issued the charge cards. In response, New Jersey Watchdog agreed to allow the state to black out their names and replace them with initials or a numeric code. Christie’s staff rejected that offer, claiming the reporter might be able to use the records to guess the number of troopers assigned to EPU.
If that information is a state secret, it is one that’s poorly kept.
New Jersey State Police Supt. Rick Fuentes revealed the numbers during his testimony at a public hearing in 2007. According to Fuentes, 29 troopers were assigned to EPU with 19 of those officers assigned to the governor’s personal security detail. At the time, he said an additional five troopers would be assigned to the governor.
EPU travel expenses do not include the troopers’ overtime pay, data kept secret under a rule adopted by the Christie administration. Nor does it count the cost of state police vehicles and helicopters used to transport the governor and his entourage.
Records of the amount of overtime paid to state police, including the EPU unit, are considered confidential because of a 2011 regulation adopted by Paula T. Dow, Christie’s first attorney general. The rule assumes release of the information could somehow jeopardize the safety of the governor and his protectors if revealed.
The costs of Christie’s travels to New Jersey taxpayers are continuing to mount in 2015 as he prepares to run for the White House.
So far this year, the governor has taken 28 out-of-state trips to political events and fundraisers, according to WNYC’s “Christie Tracker.” Destinations have included Iowa (four times), New Hampshire (twice), South Florida (three times), Cleveland, Dallas, suburban Detroit, Houston, suburban Chicago, Georgia, California, Maryland, Indiana, Connecticut, South Carolina, Boston, Tallahassee, Philadelphia, New York (twice) and Washington, DC (twice).
Christie also vacationed in the Bahamas, visited London on a trade mission and attended NFL football games in Dallas and Green Bay. He was in the stands in the Edmund P. Joyce Center for a college basketball game at Notre Dame, where his daughter attends college.