TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Jessica Mackler, President, American Bridge 21st Century
RE: Bully Seeking Pulpit
DATE: June 30, 2015
Chris Christie enters the race as a brazen, outspoken bully hoping to use the 2016 pulpit to pull his GOP opponents like Jeb Bush further to the extreme right. With nine credit downgrades and a 30 percent approval rating under his belt, Christie has made the calculation that his charming personality alone won’t do the trick in the wake of Bridgegate.
American Bridge is also releasing a new video that shows Christie is now aligning himself with the extreme wing of his party in an attempt to gain traction.
Christie’s ploy could work.
- When Christie attacked entitlements – calling for means-testing Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age – most Republicans felt like they needed to respond. By latching onto cuts in Social Security benefits, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker were forced to take positions that might sound good in a conservative primary but will hurt in the general.
- Christie is singing a different tune on his cuts to Planned Parenthood now that the GOP primary is being contested in the far right fringes. He’s recently cited his anti-choice credentials as his reason to veto Planned Parenthood funding – cutting access to mammograms and cancer screenings – but constantly told New Jerseyans that he cut funding because it was “duplicative” spending. Watch for Christie to rewrite other parts of his moderate record in a blue state.
- Christie fights with the teachers unions for epic shout-downs that give him classic YouTube moments to prop up his “Telling it like it is” mantra. He cut pension benefits for teachers, and then refused to make the full pension payments that he had promised. While he’s governed in New Jersey as if he’s running for president from day one, these examples help him remind voters in New Hampshire of his conservative record.
With Chris Christie set to enter the presidential race today, he’s preparing to drag fellow out-of-touch Republicans like Jeb Bush further to the right than they’re comfortable going with an eye on the general election.
Chris Christie On Teachers Unions: “All They Care About Is Greater Benefits, Greater Pay And Greater Longevity For Teachers, Whether They’re Good Or Not, Whether Children Are Learning Or Not, Whether Our Country Is Improving Or Not.” “We are absolutely in this country captives of the teachers union. In my state, the teachers union raises in dues every year $140 million a year in mandatory dues from their members every year and they do not contribute a nickel to teacher salary, teacher healthcare or teacher pensions. It’s a $140 million slush fund to reward their friends and intimidate their enemies. All they care about is greater benefits, greater pay and greater longevity for teachers, whether they’re good or not, whether children are learning or not, whether our country is improving or not.” [Chris Christie, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Legal Reform Summit, Washington, DC, 10/21/14; American Bridge Tracking Footage]
Raising the Retirement Age
Christie: “We Need To Increase The Retirement Age.” “We need to increase the retirement age. God bless us, we’re all living longer. Women now live to an average age of 83, men to 79. These programs were created when people died in their 60s. We have a better quality of life. That’s something to celebrate, but we can’t pretend it’s not happening. So I say let’s raise the retirement age two years and phase it in over 25 years. That doesn’t seem like that will make the world stop spinning on its axis, everybody.” [Chris Christie, Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Oklahoma City, OK, 5/22/15; American Bridge Tracking Footage]
Christie: “People Who Live Longer Are Going To Work Longer Too. And Why Shouldn’t They?”“When Social Security started, people’s life expectancy was in the 60s. Now, a female’s life expectancy is 83. A man’s life expectancy is 79. We can’t continue to have systems that were designed for people who would pass away in their 60s who are now living into their late 70s and early 80s and have the system be exactly the same. That math does not work. That’s why we have a problem. We don’t have a problem because we’re not putting enough money into the system. We have a problem because people are living much longer. That’s a joy. It’s wonderful. I’m glad they’re living longer, but people who live longer are going to work longer too. And why shouldn’t they?” [“Ask the Governor,” NJ 101.5, 4/27/15; American Bridge Tracking Footage]
Means Testing Social Security
Christie Called For Means Testing Of Social Security Benefits: “If You’re Making More Than $200,000 A Year In Retirement Income, Do You Really Need To Get The Social Security Check Every Month? Or Can You Forgo That For The Good Of The Country?” ““Part of that is I think it’s appropriate to say that if you’re making more than $200,000 a year in retirement income, do you really need to get the Social Security check every month? Or can you forgo that for the good of the country?” [“Ask the Governor,” NJ 101.5, 4/27/15; American Bridge Tracking Footage]
In 1987, Christie joined the law firm of Dughi and Hewit, and in 1999, he became one of two registered lobbyists at the firm. The firm lobbied on several controversial issues, including limiting regulations against securities fraud on behalf of a Wall Street trade group, deregulating New Jersey’s electric and gas industry, and allowing the for-profit University of Phoenix to operate in New Jersey.
Most notably, the Wall Street trade group Christie represented was called the Securities Industry Association and it was run at the time by Bernie Madoff. In 2009, Madoff was convicted of perpetrating the largest financial fraud in American history and sentenced to 150 years behind bars.
Early Political Career
In 1993, Christie launched a short-lived primary campaign against State Senator John Dorsey, then the sitting majority leader, but his campaign disbanded when officials found “dozens of invalid signatures” on Christie’s ballot petition.
Christie then set his sights lower and ran for a seat on the Morris County Freeholder Board in 1994, waging a dirty but ultimately successful campaign to defeat a sitting Republican freeholder. Christie created controversy by libelously accusing Republican Freeholder Cissy Laureys of being under investigation by the county prosecutor, which was not the case.
He won Laureys’ seat but was sued by Laureys for libel and found guilty – a rare occurrence in American politics. As a result, a judge forced Christie to publicly apologize for lying about Laureys. In addition, Christie became a target of fellow Republicans in his 1997 campaign for reelection and he was voted out of office, finishing dead last in the primary.
Appointment as U.S. Attorney
During the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Christie helped raise $350,000 for Bush’s campaign, making him one of Bush’s top fundraisers. Additionally, he personally contributed nearly $20,000 to Republican causes in 2000, and his brother, Todd Christie, also bundled contributions from donors.
In 2002, Bush appointed Christie to serve as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. As the Washington Post reported, “Looking at [Christie’s] resume, some deemed him unprepared to become the law enforcement officer in New Jersey. Many attributed his appointment to his fund-raising prowess for Bush.”
Tenure as U.S. Attorney
As the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Christie was known for allowing companies accused of white-collar crimes to enter into deferred prosecution agreements. Part of these agreements included hiring third-party lawyers as federal contractors to monitor the companies’ reforms and actions.
Christie awarded several multi-million-dollar no-bid monitoring contracts to people with whom he had a conflict of interest. Several of these contracts went to people he knew, including his old boss, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose firm was appointed by Christie “to a lucrative monitoring contract worth as much as $52 million,” and former U.S. Attorney David Kelley, who had once investigated Christie’s brother, Todd, for stock fraud but did not seek charges. Todd Christie admitted in 2008 that he conducted hundreds of trades that violated stock exchange rules and created profits for his firm at his customers’ expense.
Christie has a record of using his position as leverage, and as U.S. attorney, he avoided being ticketed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law in multiple traffic incidents.
In 2002, Christie drove the wrong way down a street and hit a motorcyclist. The officer who arrived on the scene declined to write Christie a ticket after Christie revealed his title and that he was on his way to a county prosecutor’s swearing-in ceremony. The victim, who was injured in the accident, sued Christie and the case was settled out of court in 2004.
In 2005, Christie was pulled over for speeding and for driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle. He was issued tickets on which the officer wrote “no deal,” however Christie later talked with the prosecutor and, once again, his position as U.S. attorney came up and Christie was offered a reduced charge.
As governor, Christie has gained national attention for arguing with and attacking those who ask him difficult questions. In 2012, he was on the New Jersey boardwalk when a man criticized his education policies. Christie verbally assaulted the man, saying, “You’re a real big shot shooting your mouth off,” and when the man began walking away, Christie continued, “Keep walking away. Really good. Keep walking.”
In 2013, Christie called a New York Daily News reporter “a complete idiot, self-consumed, underpaid reporter.” In another instance at a town hall meeting, Christie yelled at a 17-year-old Newark student who asked him why he had not held a town hall in Newark. Christie responded, “If I decide to have a town hall in Newark, I’ll have one.” When asked by a reporter if he thought he was a bully, Christie denied he was one, stating that, “Some people like [my] style, some people don’t.”
More recently, Christie spoke at the October 29, 2014, event marking the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, where he was confronted by a local resident who asked him to explain why home rebuilding efforts had stalled. Christie immediately began shouting at the man and told him to “sit down and shut up,” earning widespread condemnation by the media.
Dating back to his days as U.S. attorney, Christie has abused his travel budgets and spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on lavish accommodations and helicopter rides. In 2008, Christie stayed at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington, D.C., spending $475 a night when his budget was $233. Also in 2008, Christie took a trip to London on taxpayer dollars to speak at a meeting and brought his wife and two staffers with him, making the government pick up the tab for all four of their lodgings.
The spending habits of U.S. attorneys sparked an inspector general report, which revealed that Christie exceeded the budget the government set during 14 of his 23 trips as U.S. attorney, and that Christie provided “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for his spending.
Between taking office as governor in January 2010 and March 2013, Christie and his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, took a combined 164 helicopter flights at taxpayer expense, which “have cost at least $390,200.” Christie’s helicopter rides included trips to the governor’s vacation home and to his son’s baseball games. On one occasion, Christie and his wife traveled 100 yards in a state-owned car between the helicopter and the stands at their son’s baseball game.
In addition, Christie and his family attended the 2013 NFL Super Bowl in New Orleans and he has thus far refused to divulge the cost to taxpayers for the trip.
Despite taking office “promising ‘a new era of accountability and transparency,’” Christie’s administration is “accused of routinely stonewalling even the most basic requests for public records.” Christie has refused to release details about his travel and meetings to the media, as is routine for governors, thereby forcing media outlets to sue “over access to visitor logs at the governor’s mansion, out of state travel records and details about public contracts.”
Since Christie’s Bridgegate scandal broke, lawyers, government watchdog groups, and the media “say they have received more arbitrary justifications for the denial of requests made under New Jersey’s open records law, as well as an increased willingness by the state attorney general’s office to fight such requests in court.” In October 2014, the Christie administration refused to release the findings of a state investigation into pay-to-play allegations concerning the state pension system and 2014 Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, who defeated Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on Nov. 4.
Christie’s lack of transparency dates to his time as U.S. attorney. In 2009, it was revealed that key Christie aide and confidant Michelle Brown, who was still working in the U.S. attorney’s office during Christie’s first gubernatorial campaign, personally stepped in to delay the release of records pertaining to Christie’s excessive spending until after she left for a private sector job. In addition, the New York Times reported that Christie made a previously undisclosed personal loan of $46,000 to Brown in 2007.
As governor, Christie has touted his “Jersey Comeback” campaign as designed to grow the state’s economy. The state had worse economic growth, however, than all but three states in 2011 and New Jersey saw the sixth-lowest job growth of any state during Christie’s first term, with employment growing by just 2.2%.
In addition, New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times on Christie’s watch – a record for New Jersey governors – making it more difficult for the state to borrow funds for road improvements and school construction. Property taxes soared under Christie in 2010, with the average property tax bill increasing 23.5%, and Christie delayed $395 million in property tax rebates to elderly, disabled, and low-income homeowners for the third time, “making it even more difficult for those living on a fixed income in a state already one of the most expensive in which to reside.” Additionally, Atlantic City casinos have struggled during Christie’s tenure, with a quarter of them closing in 2014, causing the loss of 8,300 jobs.
Based on the poor early performance of Christie’s “Jersey Comeback” campaign, the Newark Star-Ledger stated that “Gov. Christie’s ‘Jersey Comeback’ appears to be in need of a comeback of its own.’”
New Jersey’s state pension program has plagued Christie throughout his tenure as governor. In 2014, Christie’s administration incorrectly predicted budget revenues, so Christie reneged on his deal to fund pensions to close the resulting $807 million budget gap. As reported by the Asbury Park Press, Christie raised doubts about the pension system’s ability to continue paying retirees, saying, “If I were to tell them that they were guaranteed to get the payments they were promised, I would be lying.”
Under Christie, the funds invested in risky alternatives, including hedge funds that charge high fees. Since Christie took office, these fees have tripled to almost $1 billion. Leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters panned Christie’s actions, stating that the governor “is not to be trusted” and “does not care about the brave men and women who risk their lives to keep New Jersey safe.”
Issues At A Glance
Opposes raising the minimum wage: YES
Opposes the Affordable Care Act: YES
Opposes government funding for Planned Parenthood: YES
Supports Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision: YES
What to Watch
How will multiple investigations into the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal impact Christie’s presidential aspirations?
Will Christie’s administration adhere to the state’s open records law and comply with outstanding requests before he formally launches a presidential campaign?
Will Christie’s temper ultimately doom his chances at the nomination?