STATE – Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie, who built up a record as a corruption buster in seven years as the state’s top federal prosecutor, has found his own ethics called into question in recent weeks. The allegations could affect Christie’s chances to win the GOP nomination.
This year’s Republican primary contest is a classic match up between the conservative GOP ideologue Steve Lonegan, and Christie, the more liberal political insider who became a media darling during his tenure as a Bush administration appointee.
While serving as U.S. attorney, Christie appointed attorney Herbert Stern to monitor the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to settle concerns over Medicare fraud; the contract was worth $3 million. Stern, two law partners and their wives recently gave Christie’s campaign $3,400 each, the maximum donation allowed by law.
Christie’s opponents have seized upon the opportunity to question Christie’s commitment to cleaning up New Jersey politics.
“Chris Christie has made it abundantly clear that he will end pay to play, no bid contracts and corruption,” said Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor. “It’s clear he has flip-flopped on his commitment and the Democrats will use this to destroy him in November.”
Christie, for his part, denies any wrongdoing. “I’m not going to stand around and allow my integrity to be impugned,” said a visibly agitated Christie at a news conference last week. He said that he would end the “distraction” by refusing future donations from monitors. He is not, however, planning to return the donations he’s already received from Stern and his partners.
Christie also awarded a monitoring contract to David Kelley, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, in 2007. Two years earlier, Kelley investigated a stock fraud case involving 20 traders – including Todd Christie. While 15 traders were indicted, Todd Christie’s case was handled civilly and settled with no fine or admission of wrongdoing. The criminal case fell apart and resulted in no convictions.
Both Chris Christie and Kelley said that the case was prosecuted on its merits, and Christie maintains the two lawyers never spoke about the case. “I didn’t need to pay Mr. Kelley back because my brother did nothing wrong,” Christie said.
Christie also appointed one-time boss, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, to monitor one of five medical device manufacturers implicated in a doctor kickback scheme. Ashcroft’s firm was paid up to $52 million for the work, though the exact amount was never disclosed by the company.
Christie leads Gov. Jon Corzine, the Democratic incumbent, by nine points in early polls. It’s not clear how these allegations will affect the race.