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The Chris Christie Scandal Just Got Worse


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When there is still snow on the ground past St. Patricks Day, thoughts turn longingly to the beach. Say, the Jersey Shore. Which in turn brings to mind the extreme yet comically ham-handed efforts of Governor Chris Christies administration to keep secret the process that led to the controversial selection exactly one year ago of a firm to run a $25 million ad campaign for last summers tourist season touting the Shores comeback from Superstorm Sandy.

 

As you may recall, Christie came under criticism during his reelection campaign last summer for having inserted himself and his family into the rousing Stronger than the Storm ads encouraging tourists to come back to the Jersey Shore. The ads had been funded by federal Sandy recovery aid, and it seemed eyebrow-raising, at the least, for them to feature beaming pictures of a governor in the middle of a reelection campaign, rather than just your average smiling New Jerseyans. The eyebrows shot up quite a bit further when it emerged that the firm that had gotten the job after proposing to feature Christie in its ads, public relations giant MWW, had bid at a much higher price$4.7 million versus $2.5 millionthan a well-regarded New Jersey ad firm that had proposed ads that did not feature the governor. Making matters even more interesting was that the award had been made by a selection committee led by Christies very close longtime aide, Michele Brown, whom Christie appointed to run the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, a $225,000 post. Also noteworthy was that MWW had hired just a few months earlier the former executive director of the influential Burlington County Republican Party. (It was also hard not to notice that MWW's founder and CEO, Michael Kempner, who is normally a loyal Democratic donor, was not writing any big checks to Barbara Buono, Christie's opponent, last year.) New Jersey congressman Frank Pallone, a Democrat, in January asked the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to audit the awarding of the job to make sure federal contracting rules were followed.

 

 

(READ: Chris Christie's Entire Career Reeks)

 

Further raising the intrigue around the Stronger than the Storm ads has been the lengths to which the Christie administration has gone to keep secret the relevant documentation. When Shannon Morris, the president of the New Jersey company, Sigma Group, that came in second to MWW, last summer requested the states evaluations of the proposals to better understand why her firm had lost, she received almost nothing in response. Typically when you have a state-run bid like that you haveit fully transparent, its all posted online, Morris told me. There was nothing like that in this case. When Asbury Park Press reporter Bob Jordan made an open-records request for the scoresheets that the selection committee members filled out to rank the ad proposals, the state returned to him in January the scoresheetswith the names of the committee members redacted.

 

Knowing this, I was heartened to find that my own request for the scoresheets was returned to me later in January with the names of the committee members fully disclosed. I planned to include details from the scoresheets in a cover story on Christie that I was in the process of writing, but the pieces main thrust veered away from the Sandy ads, and I decided to revisit that issue later. This week, when I went to do just that, I discovered that the Internet link the Economic Development Authority had given me for the reams of documents I had requested was no longer operable. I asked that the documents be resent. They were, and lo, this time the names of the committee members were redacted from the scoresheets. When I asked the authoritys legal officer, Shane McDougall, about the discrepancy, he replied that if the original documents had been disseminated without these redactions, it was done inadvertently. He added that the redaction of names was done on the basis of the advisory, consultative, and deliberative privilege, the expectation of privacy and the protection of the competitive bidding process.

 

(READ: Chris Christies Bullying Map of New Jersey)

 

This retroactive redaction might have been maddening were it not so ineffective: I had seen enough between what had been sent before and what was in the newly redacted documents to piece together the story behind the evaluation process. Put simply, there was no contest whatsoever between MWW on the one hand and Sigma Group and the two other finalists on the other hand. In fact, reading the scoresheets is a bit like looking at the scores of the East Bloc figure skating judges at the Olympics during the height of the Cold War.

 

The average score the six committee members gave MWWs proposal, out of 1000 possible points, was 953. The average score for Sigma Group's proposal was 718.

 

 

And as I had taken note of when I had first seen the unredacted scoresheets, the differential was the largest of all in the evaluation by Michele Brown, who has a very long history with Christie: she is a longtime close neighbor of his in Mendham Township, she traveled extensively with him when she worked alongside him in the U.S. Attorneys Office, she received a $46,000 loan from him in 2007 that he failed to report on his income taxes, and she took the lead in screening open-records requests for his tenure as U.S. Attorney while he was campaigning for governor in 2009. In her new role as head of the Economic Development Authority, she was in charge of the selection committee for the Sandy ad. And she, more than anyone else on the committee, made sure to put MWW far ahead of the competitionshe gave MWW a score of 970, above even the high average score it received overall, and she gave Sigma Group only 590, by far its lowest score. (A spokesman at the Economic Development Authority did not respond to a request for comment from Brown.)

 

Matching the other scoresheets to the committee members was not exactly a forensic challenge. One of the sheets had an evaluators name accidentally left unredactedJackie Kemery, a procurement analyst in the states Department of the Treasury, who gave MWW a score of 940 and Sigma a score of 750and it required only rudimentary handwriting analysis to match with a high degree of confidence the other scoresheets with the handwriting on other, unredacted paperwork filled out by the committee members that had been included in records I received. (The other committee members included Maureen Hassett, senior vice president for finance and development at the Economic Development Authority; Sara Maffey-Duncan, deputy director of the authoritys Office of Recovery; Melissa Orsen, chief of staff in the Department of State within the Lieutenant Governors office; and Gabrielle Gallagher, director of legal and regulatory affairs at the Department of Community Affairs, which oversees state aid to towns and cities.)

 

Which raises the question: why in the world was the Christie administration going to such lengths to obscure such basic facts about the selection process as which committee members awarded which sky-high scores to MWW? Morris, the head of Sigma Group, has a pretty good hunch: that the administration is doing anything it can to cover up the fact that the selection process had been essentially rigged from the get-go, which is the thought that came to her when she got to see the proposal from MWW. MWW and the ad firm it was partnering with, Brushfire, had less experience in this realm than did Sigma and the big national ad firm it partnered with, Weber Shandwick; whereas Weber Shandwick had produced comeback ads for New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, MWWs application cited Brushfires experience making ads for Minwax, Thompsons Water Seal and DeLonghi cappuccino machines. Given that contrast, Morris thought we had a slam dunk here to get the job.

 

But then she saw MWWs proposal, and it was far, far beyond what her firm had managed to put together in the four days theyd been given to submit a proposal. Whereas Sigma had basic storyboards for the ads it was proposing, MWW had fully conceptualized apps, video games, and other digital components on top of its conventional ad proposal. It was like looking at a 10-day term paper versus a 150-page book," she said. "I dont know how you do that unless someone had a head start. (MWW did not respond to a request for comment.)

 

As it happens, Morris did get one communication back from Michele Brown after her repeated attempts to get an explanation for being passed over: Brown sent Morris a form letter congratulating her for being named one of New Jerseys Best 50 Women in Business. The letter urged Morris to reach out to Brown if she ever needed any assistance, so Morris wrote her asking again for an explanation of the contract award.

 

She never heard back.

 

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117066/christies-stronger-storm-jersey-shore-post-sandy-ad-cover

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Political kickbacks, bribes, vote buying, etc...zero tolerance. Anyone caught doing it should be run out of office.

Political bullying, leveraging agencies against political opponents goes double.

We couldn't agree more.

Good. But I know you're just saying that because you know Christie is becoming more and more expendable to you.

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Benghazi happened in 2008?

You're now not even trying.

 

Give it up. You're not cute enough to play dumb. I am sorry that a couple of blizzards and a disappearing airplane pushed your little Christie scandal off the front pages.

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Good. But I know you're just saying that because you know Christie is becoming more and more expendable to you.

Nope. Any politician who promises gifts or money for votes...kickbacks, if you will, should be impeached.

 

Anyone caught trying to intimidate political opponents...ditto.

 

Zero tolerance. We agree completely.

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Political kickbacks, bribes, vote buying, etc...zero tolerance. Anyone caught doing it should be run out of office.

 

Political bullying, leveraging agencies against political opponents goes double.

 

We couldn't agree more.

"Political bullying, leveraging agencies against political opponents goes double."

 

Are you talking about Obama and the IRS targeting scandal?

Good. But I know you're just saying that because you know Christie is becoming more and more expendable to you.

Tip:

 

Next time don't post an encyclopedia.

 

Take some key excerpts and then post the link.

 

That way someone might actually read it. :)

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944211_381072875345903_261712283_n.jpg

Ah! That's a good one! Damn when is someone going to jail?

Political kickbacks, bribes, vote buying, etc...zero tolerance. Anyone caught doing it should be run out of office.

 

Political bullying, leveraging agencies against political opponents goes double.

 

We couldn't agree more.

When will the public demand these people be indicted?

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Pretty hilarious given the $400 million or so that Obama paid for the failed Obamacare website in a no-bid contract.

 

Why aren't you bleating in outrage about that, troll?

is obama running again?

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Nope. Any politician who promises gifts or money for votes...kickbacks, if you will, should be impeached.

 

Anyone caught trying to intimidate political opponents...ditto.

 

Zero tolerance. We agree completely.

What caused your turnaround? You fought for weeks making excuses for Christie. Did you finally see the error of your ways?

 

Pretty hilarious given the $400 million or so that Obama paid for the failed Obamacare website in a no-bid contract.

 

Why aren't you bleating in outrage about that, troll?

Why can't you address the OP?

You're becoming more and more senile.

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Pretty hilarious given the $400 million or so that Obama paid for the failed Obamacare website in a no-bid contract.

 

Why aren't you bleating in outrage about that, troll?

Why can't you address the OP?

You're becoming more and more senile.

 

The op is your endless Democrat Talking Point Lies and partisan bulls***.

 

Why didn't you respond to my point, troll? Because you have no answer to a far, far, far worse problem.

Say, how's that roaring Obama Economy going? :D

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Good. But I know you're just saying that because you know Christie is becoming more and more expendable to you.

Maybe you should stop clinging to Christie and get up to speed on IRS targeting, Benghazi, Fast & Furious, etc.

 

You are desperate to deflect from Obama's scandals.

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Oh . The Christie scandals are only talking points and lies. Yup. Senility has definitely set in for good.

Not surprised you loved Reagan so much you want to follow in his footsteps.

 

The general conduct of your party is far, far worse.

 

You're the lying troll who denied all of Clinton's many felonies, impeachable acts and deep corruption, yet you bleat in fake outrage about the mere appearance of wrongdoing when a Repub is involved.

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