Federal investigators have ordered a probe into whether Gov. Chris Christie’s administration improperly spent millions of dollars of relief meant to encourage tourists to New Jersey after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
The probe comes as Mr. Christie is struggling with the most difficult crisis of his political career after it was revealed that people in his administration schemed to close local lanes onto the George Washington Bridge as political punishment for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. On Monday, New Jersey Democrats announced a new committee to investigate the closings.
This is not the first time Mr. Christie has come under criticism for the Hurricane Sandy funds: Many of the television advertisements used in the campaign, called “Stronger than the Storm,” prominently featured the governor and his family, which drew complaints from Democrats around the state who said it was more focused on promoting Mr. Christie than the Jersey Shore.
The commercials were paid for with money from a federal disaster relief package New Jersey received that included $25 million for a media campaign. The audit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development will look into how the contract was awarded.
An investigation by The Asbury Park Press last year found that the public relations firm that won the contract, MWW Group, based in East Rutherford, charged $2 million more than a competitor that submitted a comparable proposal.
A key difference in the bids, the newspaper reported, was that the MWW Group proposal prominently featured the governor in the ads.
Following the reports in The Asbury Park Press, Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat and longtime critic of Mr. Christie, sent a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development asking the agency to looking into the matter.
“While promoting tourism at the Jersey Shore in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is certainly a worthy endeavor, recent reports have led me to believe that the state has irresponsibly misappropriated funding allocated by Congress from the Sandy aid package and taken advantage of this waiver for political purposes,” Mr. Pallone wrote in August.