Aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are pointing out that the Obama administration approved of the New Jersey tourism ads starring Christie and his family that a Democratic congressman has encouraged federal investigators to probe.
Using federal relief money after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the state of the New Jersey ran “Stronger than the Storm” ads promoting the state’s beaches.
“The Stronger Than The Storm campaign was just one part of the first action plan approved by the Obama Administration and developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business during the first summer after Sandy,” Christie spokesman Colin Reed said Monday.
CNN reported Monday that New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development over the summer to probe whether it was appropriate for New Jersey to spend $25 million in hurricane relief funds on TV ads promoting tourism. Christie and his family starred in the ads, prompting criticism from Democrats seeing how he was running for re-election at the time.
The timing of Pallone’s announcement of the probe is raising eyebrows because it comes days after Christie found himself in a national media scandal over his administration’s intentional closing of traffic lanes leading to a busy bridge in the state.
On Monday, Christie’s office welcomed the review of the Sandy relief funding expenditures and said they were confident it would indicate the TV ads were appropriate.
“Federal agency reviews are routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly,” Reed said. “We’re confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history.”
The action plan that Christie’s office said was approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development included language calling for a media campaign to draw tourists back to the beaches.
“A core part of the first year of the contract will be to design and implement a newly branded message for New Jersey to attract visitors and bolster consumer spending in Sandy-impacted areas,” the action plan stated.
“The national media coverage New Jersey received during Superstorm Sandy highlighted the devastating effects of the storm,” it reads. “Unfortunately, it also has left the misconception that the entire shoreline is devastated and closed to tourism.”
In November of 2013, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan also praised the ads during a Capitol Hill hearing. Discussing how relief money was “used for an economic development campaign to encourage people back to the beaches,” Donovan said, “The evidence that we have seen is that those campaigns are effective in growing economic development in those areas and therefore they actually reduce the cost of recovery to the federal government.”
“The Community Development Block Grant is a very flexible program,” Donovan said. “This is clearly within the legal boundaries of what Congress has determined the program can be used for and it was demonstrated to us that this could be an effective tool and actually lower the cost to the federal government.”
Critics of Christie have questioned whether the governor should have appeared in the ads himself, but allies are circulating an August 2013 Monmouth University Poll that shows 63 percent of those in the state thought it was appropriate.
Here’s the tourism ad: