TRENTON — Democrats Thursday renewed their charges that Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie politicized his office as U.S. attorney, saying he used his taxpayer-funded travel around the state to lay the groundwork for a future campaign.
Christie denied any impropriety and accused Democratic Governor Corzine of manufacturing controversy to distract from his record.
During his tenure as a federal prosecutor, Christie was reimbursed for the mileage on visits to an anti-tax group in Denville, a dinner dance in honor of a Republican state senator, and an array of business and academic groups, according to documents released by the Corzine campaign. The documents, including Christie’s reimbursement forms and mileage from 2002 to 2008, were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The tax reform group that Christie visited in 2004, the Silver Brigade, is now the New Jersey Taxpayers Association, according to its website. The leader of that group was among a group of anti-tax advocates who endorsed Christie earlier this week.
“It’s either the makings of a political campaign, or somebody who likes to spend a lot of time out of the office,” said Corzine’s running mate, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Either way, there are questions about the propriety.”
The Corzine campaign analysis also showed Christie’s driving expenses increased from 2002 to 2008, and included events where he received awards and swore local politicians into office.
During a news conference in Gloucester County today, Christie dismissed questions about his travel expenses as an effort by the Corzine campaign to distract reporters the same week it was revealed the governor’s office has been trying to orchestrate events that would show Corzine as having been effective in creating jobs.
Christie said that revelation — contained in a memo from Corzine’s deputy chief of staff to cabinet members — should be investigated by the appropriate state agencies. On Wednesday, the governor defended the aide, Mark Matzen, though he said he would not have used the same type of language.
Chritie said his travel was not political.
“I traveled around the state going to places where I was invited to go and speaking about the work in the office and how proud I was about what I did,” he said.
Democrats have called Christie’s travel expenses excessive. However, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress overseeing public funds, has never received complaints or looked into Christie’s spending, said Eileen Larence, GAO director for Homeland Security and Justice issues.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal ethics group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said visiting business and community groups is part of a U.S. attorney’s job. “A big part of their role is they’re sort of an ambassador to the community,” she said.
But the anti-tax group “looks problematic,” said Sloan, herself a former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington. “You’re not even supposed to be perceived as political.”