Yes, Chris Christie's Campaign Can Raise Money to Pay His Legal Bills
By Andrew Seidman
A New Jersey elections panel voted Tuesday that Gov. Christie's reelection campaign can use money remaining in its account and raise more funds to comply with subpoenas issued by legislators and federal prosecutors.
The subpoenas stem from investigations into September lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, which caused massive traffic jams and were allegedly carried out by Christie allies to exact political revenge against the mayor of Fort Lee.
"I think it's critical, considering what the state is faced with at this point, that all the information regarding what occurred in September get to the authorities as quickly as possible and get to the public as quickly as possible, so that everybody can finally get the answers we're looking for," Ronald DeFilippis, chairman of the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), said at Tuesday's hearing. The agency monitors state campaign financing.
"I believe our job is to shed sunlight onto this process."
ELEC voted, 2-0, in favor of authorizing the campaign to use campaign funds to retrieve and produce data and documents requested by legislators and the U.S. Attorney's Office. It extended the existence of Chris Christie for Governor Inc., which otherwise would be winding down.
Voting were DeFilippis and Amos Saunders.
One member of the four-person commission, Walter Timpone, recused himself because he had temporarily represented Bridget Anne Kelly, a former Christie aide who has been implicated in the scandal and subpoenaed. The fourth seat is vacant.
Mark Sheridan, a lawyer with Patton Boggs who represents the Christie campaign, told reporters that the campaign had about $126,000 in its account. He declined to estimate how much money the campaign might need to spend to comply with the subpoenas, which seek documents and correspondence from all of its roughly 40 to 50 employees.
"We're hopeful that will be enough [money] to allow us to respond," Sheridan said. Contribution limits still apply, so any individual who has already donated $3,800 to Christie's reelection campaign would not be able to contribute more.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that elected officials who are the targets of criminal investigations cannot dip into their campaign accounts to pay legal bills for their defense. Sheridan said the U.S. Attorney's Office had not told the group that it was a target of its investigation.
"At this point in time, that is not the case," he told the election commission. "What has happened here, the committee has been asked as a witness to provide documents."
Sheridan drew a contrast with the inquiries into former Newark Mayor Sharpe James and former State Sen. Wayne Bryant, both of whom had been identified as targets of criminal investigations when they sought to use campaign funds.
If the Christie campaign learns that it has become a target of the U.S. attorney's probe, Sheridan would have to alert ELEC and return for an advisory opinion on how to proceed.
The campaign was among 18 organizations and individuals who were issued new subpoenas from legislators Monday. Some of them, including the campaign, had already received subpoenas in January. Sheridan said the new subpoena asks for information related to the testimony of Bill Baroni, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, before a legislative committee in November. Baroni, who has since resigned, testified that the lanes were closed as part of a traffic study.
The Port Authority's executive director has disputed that account, and documents obtained by legislators suggest an ulterior motive for the traffic jams.
The new subpoena also seeks communications related to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who says he was courted by the Republican governor's campaign for an endorsement and declined to give it.
The campaign is not paying legal fees for any specific individuals, Sheridan told the commission. Separately, Bill Stepien, who was campaign manager, has received subpoenas from legislators and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Stepien has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to not comply with the legislative inquiry. "We are responding only on behalf of the corporate entity," Sheridan said. "If individuals need their own counsel, that's their own problem and their expense."
New Subpoenas Being Issued
The list of targets of a new round of subpoenas being issued by lawmakers probing the September lane closures at the George Washington Bridge was obtained by The Inquirer from a person familiar with the investigation. Representatives for each declined to comment, with two exceptions: An attorney for Christie's reelection campaign organization said it would cooperate, and William "Pat" Schuber could not be reached.
- Chris Christie for Governor Inc., the governor's reelection campaign.
- The governor's office.
- Regina Egea, director of the authorities unit, governor's office.
- Nicole Crifo, senior counsel to the authorities unit, governor's office.
- Jeanne Ashmore, director of constituent relations, governor's office.
- Rosemary Iannacone, director of operations, governor's office.
- Barbara Panebianco, executive assistant to former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, governor's office.
- Custodian of records, state police aviation unit.
- William "Pat" Schuber, commissioner at the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J.
- Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director at the Port Authority.
- Custodian of records, Port Authority.
- Steve Coleman, deputy director of media relations, Port Authority.
- Phillip Kwon, deputy general counsel, Port Authority.
- John Ma, chief of staff to executive director Patrick Foye, Port Authority.
- Matthew Bell, special assistant to former deputy executive director Bill Baroni, Port Authority.
- Gretchen DiMarco, assistant to Baroni, Port Authority.
- Arielle Schwarz, special assistant to former director of interstate capital projects David Wildstein, Port Authority.
- Mark Muriello, assistant director of tunnels, bridges, and terminals, Port Authority.