By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
When a governor takes out-of-state trips to campaign for a new job, who pays for the travel bills of the state police security details?
In New Jersey and Wisconsin, the answers are different for two governors who are jockeying for position in the 2016 GOP presidential sweepstakes.
Chris Christie has unapologetically stuck New Jersey taxpayers with the $1.15 million in Executive Protection Unit travel costs during his first five years in office, according to a New Jersey Watchdog analysis.
But when Wisconsin’s Scott Walker hits the road on political journeys, those bills are being paid by his political action committee, which gets the money from campaign donations.
“Our American Revival is paying for all hotels, flights, rental cars and any other travel expenses for the troopers when they are on political trips,” said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.
In the Garden State, taxpayers pay for the whole thing – and most of the records on how that money is spent are kept secret.
“These are the same standards and practices that every other former governor followed when it comes to their security detail,” said Christie’s press secretary Kevin Roberts. He has refused further comment.
Almost 85 percent, or $975,000, of the EPU travel costs was charged to American Express cards used by the governor’s office, New Jersey Watchdog found. On a quarterly basis, the 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 tell which costs are related to state business, as compared to his personal and political trips.
New Jersey Watchdog is suing the governor’s office for the charge card records in Mercer County Superior Court. A hearing is scheduled for May 28 before Judge Mary C. Jacobson.
Walker’s administration appears to be a model of transparency compared to the Christie regime.
The security tab for the Wisconsin governor’s out-of-state travels totaled $60,307 in 2013 and $89,454 last year, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report. The administration also released the individual names, salaries and overtime costs for troopers in the governor’s security team.
In contrast, Christie’s staff denied release of the Amex records because it arguably could be used to count the number of troopers in the EPU unit.
In a bizarre turn of events, Christie revealed that security secret to a Cub Scout during a town hall meeting earlier this month at a crowded VFW hall in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.
“How many bodyguards do you have?” 7-year-old Charles Tartaglia asked the governor in a clip posted on YouTube.
“There are 30 men and women who work for me, who are in the state police, and they’re members of what’s called the Executive Protection Unit…” answered Christie. “I’m not telling you which ones they are, but a subtle hint would be – the guys with the wires in their ears.”
Wisconsin and New Jersey have at least one thing in common: Taxpayers foot the bill for the salaries of the state troopers assigned to protect the governor around the clock, no matter where the chief executive goes.
M.D. Kittle of Wisconsin Watchdog contributed to this report.