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New Problem For Christie: Audit Of Sandy-Related Spending

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, in one of the "Stronger Than The Storm" ads aimed at bringing tourists back to his state after Hurricane Sandy.
StrongerThanTheStorm YouTube channel
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, in one of the "Stronger Than The Storm" ads aimed at bringing tourists back to his state after Hurricane Sandy.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is going to examine how the state of New Jersey spent $25 million of the federal aid it received after 2012's Hurricane Sandy, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., has announced.

At issue in particular: whether it was appropriate to spend nearly $5 million on "Stronger Than The Storm" tourism ads featuring Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his family.

As the Asbury Park Press reported last August, the TV ads were produced by "East Rutherford-based MWW and a subcontractor. ... MWW proposed putting Christie in the ads. The other bidder, a team headed by the Sigma Group, did not. MWW won the contract."

MWW also demanded a higher fee — about $2 million more, the Press reported — than Sigma Group would have charged.

The ads hit the airwaves in 2013, an election year in New Jersey. Christie easily won a second term. He's now widely seen as a potential contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Pallone is a long-time critic of Christie. Word about the audit comes, of course, on top of a headline-grabbing scandal in Christie's office. As CNN says:

"Just days after dismissing two top advisers for their roles in the George Washington Bridge scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is facing questions over the use of Superstorm Sandy relief funds."

The bridge scandal revolves around the actions of some high-ranking Christie aides. Emails show that last September they were involved in orders to close some lanes to the GW bridge from Fort Lee, N.J. At the time, officials said that a traffic study was underway. The emails paint a different picture: of Christie's aides trying to cause problems for one or more local Democratic officials. Traffic was tied up in Fort Lee for the better part of four days.

Last Thursday, Christie said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by his aides' actions, and that he knew nothing about the lane closings before they were ordered.

Now, according to The Associated Press, "Christie spokesman Colin Reed says the federal government approved the [ad] campaign and that the administration expects a review will find it was effective."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.