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Flashback: Republicans worried about waste in Sandy spending

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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Remember the debate over Hurricane Sandy relief?

The federal government will audit Sandy spending by embattled Gov.Chris Christie on ads promoting tourism to New Jersey, it was announced Monday.

Congressional Republicans who attempted to block the Sandy aid package, in part due to concerns about wasteful spending, faced a huge backlash. The bill passed the House with mostly Democratic votes.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul specifically criticized the ad spending last November, telling Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan it was “offensive.”

“That’s a real problem. And that’s why when people who are trying to do good and trying to use taxpayers’ money wisely, they’re offended to see our money spent on political ads,” said Paul.

“Some of these ads, people running for office put their their mug all over these ads while they’re in the middle of a political campaign,” he added, in an implicit shot at Christie.

Donovan defended spending on the tourism ads, telling Paul that “the evidence that we have seen is that those campaigns are effective in growing economic development in those areas,” adding that the ads actually reduce costs for the federal government.

Christie appeared in an ad campaign called “Stronger Than the Storm,” which advertised that the Jersey Shore and the rest of the state were open for business following the storm, which hit Oct. 29, 2012.

On Monday New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. said in a statement that the inspector general and the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be looking into the use of $25 million earmarked for Sandy relief for the ads.

“At issue is the bidding process for the campaign and released documents which raise questions as to why the state chose to award the contract to a firm that charged the state over $2 million more than a comparable bid for similar work,” said Pallone, who first called the ad spending into question last August. (Christie office: Obama administration approved Jersey Shore TV ads)

The Department of Housing and Urban development approved a waiver allowing New Jersey to spend $25 million awarded through at Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan on the marketing campaign.

Many Republicans fought for spending cuts to other programs to offset the $51 billion relief package. Christie said Republicans who delayed the bill “failed the basic test of leadership.” It ultimately passed the House by a vote of 241-180, with just 49 Republicans voting in favor.

Republicans expressed concern at the size of the relief package.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz warned against the “business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects”.

“Emergency relief for the families who are suffering from this natural disaster should not be used as a Christmas tree for billions in unrelated spending,” Cruz told The Houston Chronicle. The Senate approved the final Sandy relief bill 62-36.

“These disaster bills are becoming pork spending,” California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock told The Hill last January. “There’s lots of spending in these bills that has nothing to do with the disaster.”

Appearing on MSNBC last August during his senate campaign, Steve Lonegan, whom Christie had endorsed, spoke out against the governor’s relief request, telling Steve Kornacki, “I disagree with Governor Christie and President Obama on Hurricane Sandy funding.”

“I thought it was over the top. I thought it was too much money.”

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