State troopers guard Gov. Chris Christie as he travels the nation to run for president, yet no one seems able to protect the governor from his own choices.
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly oppose Christie’s practice of sticking taxpayers with the travel bills of the state police escorts who follow him on the political trail, according to a Monmouth University poll.
Only 1 percent of the voters polled thought the state should pay, while 82 percent said Christie’s campaign should take responsibility for the out-of-state security costs. The same poll found 58 percent of New Jerseyans judged their governor as not honest or trustworthy.
But Christie won’t ask America Leads, his super PAC that has raised $11 million, to pay for extra public expenses created by his political ambitions. He refuses to follow the lead of Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, a fellow governor and rival GOP candidate.
“We’re going to continue to conduct this in the same way I’ve always conducted it,” Christie told reporters on the campaign trail in New Hampshire earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the price to state taxpayers is rising sharply, according to a New Jersey Watchdog analysis of documents obtained through the Open Public Records Act.
Last year, the travel costs for the state police’s Executive Protection Unit rose to a record high of $492,420. As chair of the Republican Governors Association, Christie attended events in 36 states to help raise $106 million in campaign contributions for GOP candidates.
Those travel expenses are 22 times higher than the $21,724 spent by the EPU in 2009, Jon Corzine’s last year as governor.
EPU travel expenses increased at a rate of 66 percent during the first quarter of 2015, hitting $184,659 as Christie prepared for his White House run. With the formal announcement of his candidacy on June 30, those bills are expected to skyrocket, along with the frequency and duration of the governor’s trips outside New Jersey.
Instead of transparency, Christie has chosen to closely guard details of how that money is used.
More than $1.1 million in EPU travel costs have been charged to American Express cards issued to the governor’s office — more than 80 percent of the $1.3 million spent since Christie took office in 2010. But the governor’s staff has refused to release the AmEx statements or other accounts of the expenditures.
New Jersey Watchdog is suing the governor for those records in Mercer County Superior Court — and so far, the case is not going well for Christie. (Disclosure: Investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist is the plaintiff in Lagerkvist v. Office of Governor, filed in Mercer County Superior Court.)
The Christie administration argued release of the documents might reveal security information — such as the size of the EPU staff and how many troopers typically accompany the governor.
Then in a bizarre turn of events, Gov. Chris Christie publicly revealed those supposed secrets to a Cub Scout in April during a town hall meeting in Hasbrouck Heights.
“How many bodyguards do you have?” 7-year-old Charles Tartaglia asked the governor.
“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.
Christie began his answer to the boy, a member of local Troop 17, by scanning the crowded VFW hall for EPU troopers in attendance.
“I count about six,” said the governor. “I’m not telling you which ones they are, but a subtle hint would be — the guys with the wires in their ears.”
After viewing a clip of the episode on YouTube posted by the governor’s office, Judge Mary C. Jacobson was visibly upset during a court hearing. In previous OPRA cases, she had ruled against release of the expense records, accepting the security arguments from Christie and EPU.
“I’d like to be consistent, but I have to tell you, when I saw that YouTube video, I felt that it completely undermined what I had ruled earlier,” said the judge. “The governor speaks so freely about this, how can I conclude that releasing these details on amount of food and so forth could really in any significant way undermine the governor’s security?”
Jacobson is expected to rule on the case during a hearing scheduled for Aug. 7.
Other expense records have embarrassed Christie when publicly released.
In May, New Jersey Watchdog revealed Christie spent more than $82,000 from his state expense account to buy concessions at MetLife Stadium during the 2010 and 2011 football seasons. To avoid a potential scandal, the New Jersey State Republican Committee reimbursed the state for the expenditures.