Christie Campaign Gets Green Light To Use Election Funds for Legal Fees

, New Jersey Law Journal


George Washington Bridge
George Washington Bridge

New Jersey election law regulators on Tuesday said that Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign committee can use unspent funds—and raise more—to pay its legal fees and expenses to comply with document subpoenas in the Bridgegate investigation.

Ronald DeFilippis, chairman of the Election Law Enforcement Commission,  said that the spending purpose is legal and that it is important for the campaign to be able to respond to the subpoenas quickly.

“If they don’t have access to the funds they will be constricted. That’s the overriding thing,” DeFilippis said. “Dollars are irrelevant now to the people of New Jersey. They want answers.”

The committee’s attorney, Mark Sheridan of Patton Boggs, told the commissioners that it will need it remaining funds on hand, plus an unspecified additional amount, not only to pay the firm’s fees but also to hire a vendor to sift through unknown number of emails, texts and other communications between its staff, the governor’s office and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.

The committee has $126,608 at present after spending nearly $12.2 million to get Christie re-elected last year.

The committee has been hit with subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the Joint New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, who are looking into the circumstances surrounding the George Washington Bridge access lane closures that crippled traffic in Fort Lee from Sept. 9 to Sept. 13.

Sheridan told ELEC that the committee needs money to cooperate with both investigations. The data mining operation that will be required is “rather simple and straightforward,” he said, but there will be expenses incurred.

Before using the leftover money and raising more, Sheridan sought an advisory opinion from ELEC, which regulates how publicly funded campaigns generate funds and spend them.

 New Jersey law prohibits using campaign funds to pay for a criminal defense, but the commissioners agreed with Sheridan that the committee is not, at present, a target in a criminal investigation but only a witness called on to supply documents.

“There is no suggestion that the governor or the committee is the target of an investigation,” Sheridan said.

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