A New Jersey court is standing by its order to force Gov. Chris Christie to reveal a key cog in his taxpayer-funded publicity machine — a multitiered, high-tech list of 2,500 media contacts.
Judge Mary C. Jacobson denied Christie’s motion for reconsideration during a hearing Friday in Mercer County Superior Court. She ordered the governor’s office to release the record by August 17 and pay for New Jersey Watchdog’s legal fees. (Disclosure: Investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist is the plaintiff in Lagerkvist v. Office of the Governor, MER-L-463-15, Mercer County Superior Court.)
“The media strategy of the governor seems to me to be something that is of general public interest,” said Jacobson, rejecting the state’s reasons why the list be should be kept secret.
In response to a direct question, press secretary Kevin Roberts would not confirm or deny whether the governor’s office has shared the supposedly confidential list with Christie’s PAC, the state Republican Party, or other political entities.
“Given that this issue is still the subject of pending litigation, we cannot comment,” said Roberts in a prepared statement that hints Christie may appeal Jacobson’s ruling. Technically, unless there is an appeal, the case is over.
The media list was created by the governor’s communications staff, which consists of 16 full-time state employees paid $1.36 million in salaries last year, New Jersey Watchdog found.
It helped the governor score countless national TV appearances, not to mention 8,761,511 views on YouTube, 176,955 likes on Facebook, and 6,810 tweets to 489,000 followers on Twitter during his first five years in office. The media campaign helped turn Christie into a national figure and set the stage for run for the White House.
Jacobson had previously ordered Christie to turn over the list by June 12. Instead of complying, the governor’s office asked her to consider new arguments it had neglected to make before her initial decision.
The list is a “valuable asset” that would give New Jersey Watchdog an “unfair competitive advantage” over other media outlets, according to a certification from Roberts.
Roberts’ assertions were contradicted by a sworn statement from Stephen A. Borg, president of North Media Group and publisher of the Record, New Jersey’s second-largest daily newspaper.
“This court finds that the certification from another news outlet is more persuasive to the court in terms of evaluating the competitive advantage than from someone in the governor’s office,” said Jacobson.
In addition to ruling against Christie on the merits of the evidence, the judge called the motion an “inappropriate” attempt by the governor to get “a second bite of the apple” on a case that had already been argued and decided.
“The most disturbing part of it to me is that it contradicts the spirit of the Open Public Records Act,” said Jacobson. “The whole bias of OPRA is to provide documents and cooperate with requesters.”
While New Jersey Watchdog prevailed on the media list, the investigative news site lost the other half of the case for records of the governor’s security expenses.
Based on secret evidence, Jacobson is allowing Christie to hide American Express bills that show how his state police security team charged more than $1 million to pay for out-of-state travel while pursuing his run for the White House and other political ambitions.
The judge ruled that details of past Executive Protection Unit expenses for food, lodging, and transportation could create a potential security risk for the governor in the future.
As a result, state taxpayers may never learn how the money was spent. The full report is available online.
A version of this story has been posted to the New Jersey Watchdog website.