David A. Montoya, the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said in a statement Tuesday that audits of federal expenditures are routine.
Questions arose about Christie’s appearance in the commercials, which aired in the lead-up to his reelection campaign, after reports that the state spent $4.7 million on the project, declining a smaller $2.5 million proposal that would not have featured the governor and his family.
Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr., a Democrat, asked Montoya last August to investigate whether the governor misused for “political purposes” part of the $25 million in federal grants approved for tourism promotion in the state.
“It is inappropriate for taxpayer-funded dollars that are critical to our state’s recovery from this natural disaster to fund commercials that could potentially benefit a political campaign,” Pallone wrote to HUD on Aug. 8. “In these sensitive circumstances, even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be avoided.”
Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic gubernatorial challenger, alleged during her campaign that the “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign spots amounted to federally subsidized political ads. Kentucky senator Rand Paul, a potential Republican rival should the governor make a presidential bid in 2016, also questioned the use of the relief dollars a day after Christie's landslide reelection.
“An audit was initiated in September 2013 to examine whether the State administered its Tourism Marketing Program in accordance with applicable departmental and Federal requirements,” Montoya wrote in his statement.
“This is an audit and not an investigation of the procurement process.”
In a statement Monday announcing the audit, Pallone indicated that the inspector general would investigate the bidding process used to develop the commercials.
The news was amplified by the launch of separate investigations following revelations last week that top Christie staffers were involved in the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, apparently to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor. No evidence has linked Christie directly to the scandal.The HUD inquiry is ongoing and Montoya said, until the audit is complete, his office would have no further comment.