New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s re-election campaign asked a state board to allow it to raise money and pay for vendor and legal costs required to respond to subpoenas over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.
The campaign, which backed the Republican’s re-election last November, yesterday asked the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to let it exceed the fundraising and spending limits. A state legislative committee and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark, New Jersey, seek the documents.
Lawmakers and U.S. prosecutors are examining why Christie aides and appointees ordered a shutdown of lanes leading to the bridge, which snarled traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey, from Sept. 9 to 12. Christie, 51, fired his deputy chief of staff and cast aside his campaign manager. The scandal hurt approval ratings for Christie, who may run for the White House in 2016.
“Complying with these requests will be a costly and time-consuming process,” according to the letter by campaign attorney Mark Sheridan of Patton Boggs LLP.
The campaign has $126,608 on hand and is $12,905 short of the $12.2 million expenditure limit, according to the request. Seeking e-mails, text messages, instant messages and other electronic data subpoenaed means hiring a vendor “at a significant cost, to image and preserve the data on computers, tablets and smart phones of the candidate committee and its employees,” according to the request. Campaign lawyers must also review the material for relevance, it said.
While the legislative committee seeks the material by Feb. 3 and Fishman by Feb. 5, the campaign wants to slow the clock. It asked to push back the deadline as it awaits ELEC’s response to its request for an advisory opinion that subpoena-related costs are outside the limits on expenditures.
“No legitimate public interest is served” by forcing the campaign “to choose between violating the Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act and being held in contempt” by lawmakers and U.S. prosecutors, according to the request by Sheridan.
Joseph Donohue, deputy director of ELEC, said he couldn’t comment on the request. Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Fishman, declined to comment on it.
On Jan. 16, lawmakers issued 20 subpoenas to individuals and organizations. The next day, the campaign got a federal subpoena, as did the state Republican Committee, according to Sheridan. His firm also represents Nicole Davidman Drewniak, a fundraiser for the Christie campaign who is married to Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor.
Dawn Zimmer, the Democratic mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, has said Christie’s administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery grants unless she supported a development project. Christie’s office denied that claim. Zimmer said she was interviewed on Jan. 19 by Fishman’s office.
Publicity over the bridge scandal and Zimmer’s claims have hurt Christie’s approval ratings. They slid to 48 percent among state voters, compared with 62 percent in October, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind institute poll released this week.
He won a second term on Nov. 5, beating his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, by 22 percentage points. Christie raised about $4.5 million in private donations and $7.9 million in public matching funds, according to ELEC.
Democrats control both the state Assembly and Senate, which formed a joint committee to examine the lane closures. State Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the panel, said lawmakers will schedule additional hearings after reviewing the documents turned over in response to subpoenas.
“Calling witnesses depends on what turns up in the documents,” Weinberg said. “It’s hard to guess until we actually see the documents and get a good review of them.”
E-mails and texts released Jan. 8 show that top Christie aides discussed closing the lanes as a way to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich. He didn’t cross party lines and support Christie in his re-election bid.
At a Jan. 9 hearing, lawmakers sought to question David Wildstein, a former top executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge. Wildstein asserted his constitutional right against self-incrimination. Lawmakers held him in contempt. Wildstein lawyer Alan Zegas said he might talk if granted immunity from prosecution.
Weinberg said that lawmakers can’t grant immunity.
Christie’s administration hired Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to represent it before the Legislature and U.S. Attorney’s Office. The law firm will be paid $650 an hour for attorney “timekeepers,” according to a Jan. 29 letter by Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro to the state attorney general’s office.
“Given the status of our client as a government entity, this rate reflects a more than 40 percent discount off my hourly rate and a more than 20 percent discount off the average hourly rate for attorneys in our New York office,” Mastro wrote.
Mastro’s firm will represent Christie’s office in “all pending Legislative and United States Attorney inquiries,” including “reviewing best practices for office operations and information flow, assisting in its internal review, and assisting with document retention and production” to authorities, according to a Jan. 28 retention letter.