Documents obtained by Firedoglake under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) detail New Jersey Governor and popular contender for the Republican Party’s 2016 Presidential nomination Chris Christie’s career as a registered lobbyist.
In February 1999 Christie joined his longtime friend and still close political advisor Bill Palatucci as a registered lobbyist in the state of New Jersey. Christie filed reports with New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission as a legislative agent through 1999 into 2001 when he sent a notice of termination in September of 2001 thereby removing his status as a registered legislative agent. Palatucci would remain a registered lobbyist after that time.
Christie and Palatucci were the registered legislative agents for various business and political interests that would become major players and supporters when Christie became governor. Some of their clients would become fixtures in the headlines associated with corruption, others key allies in promoting Governor Christie’s legislative agenda.
The Bernie Madoff Connection
According to the book Double Down one of the reasons Mitt Romney and team were hesitant to take further action to recruit Chris Christie as their nominee for Vice President of the United States were unsettling facts concerning Christie’s lobbying career in relation to infamous convicted ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff.
Disclosed in the lobbying records is proof that in the year 2000 Christie did work as a legislative agent for the Securities Industry Association of which Madoff was a member, ultimately serving as a director and two-term board member. The level of Madoff’s personal involvement in Christie and Palatucci’s work on his association’s behalf is not known. Any communication between Christie and Madoff is not subject to OPRA requests.
What is known is that Palatucci and Christie worked in opposition to New Jersey Assembly Bill 1489 which sought to amend the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act “to include securities in the definition of covered merchandise under the act.” Including securities in the Consumer Fraud Act may have made it more difficult for financiers like Bernard Madoff to commit securities fraud.
Christie and Palatucci and all those opposing the bill were successful and efforts to include financial securities in the Consumer Fraud Act failed with the defeat of A.1489.
All Expense Paid Trip For Ethically Challenged Assemblyman
As US Attorney Chris Christie amassed an impressive record of convicting New Jersey officials on corruption charges. His success in doing so arguably laid the groundwork for his victorious run for Governor of New Jersey in 2009. But before Christie became the populist prosecutor with a special taste for corrupt politicians he wheeled and dealed with the rest of the lobbyists in Trenton including a questionable all expense paid trip for a politician plagued by ethics problems.
Christie and Palatucci were the legislative agents for the University of Phoenix Online which was trying to get licensed in the state of New Jersey. As part of their effort they flew an assemblyman by the name of Rudy Garcia down to Phoenix, Arizona and wined and dined him in hopes of winning his support.
According to disclosures made to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, in November of 1999 Christie and Palatucci picked up the assemblyman’s food, travel, and entertainment expenses for his four day trip which amounted to $1,948.78.
While on his four day trip, to learn more about the the University of Phoenix Online’s licensing problem, Garcia played golf at Dove Valley Ranch Golf and Grayhawk Golf Club courtesy of Christie and Palatucci. Two days out of a four day trip Garcia was on the golf course. Fortunately he could rest after his golf outings in the Phoenix sun at the four-star Doubletree Paradise Valley Hotel – also courtesy of Christie and Palatucci.
But unfortunately for Assemblyman Garcia the good times would not last as he facing an investigation for corruption in his other job – being mayor of Union City. Previous to recent reforms New Jersey politicians were allowed to be both a local office holder and in the state legislature. Some still are thanks to a grandfather clause in the reform bill.
While his career in the state assembly may have been a holiday in the sun, Garcia’s tenure as Mayor of Union City would prove stormy and after an investigation by the State Attorney General’s office for improprieties in city finances and the Hudson County Democratic organization he was Treasurer for. In October 2000 Garcia resigned as mayor rather than face a recall election and did not run for another term in the state assembly.
However, leaving public office did not keep Garcia out of the headlines as he would later face charges as being part of a $500 million illegal sports betting ring. But Garcia would once again escape indictment admitting that he had made illegal bets but claimed he was not part of running the operation.
Today former Assemblyman Garcia is a registered lobbyist in Trenton.
School Privatization / “Ed Reform” Movement
While in office Governor Christie has pursued an aggressive agenda of “reforming” public education which includes using voucher programs, charter schools, and limiting teacher tenure. Christie’s expierience with the public education reform or privatization movement goes as far back as his lobbying career where he and Palatucci were legislative agents for for-profit Edison Schools Inc., a company that profited from privatizing the management of public schools. Edison Schools Inc. – now EdisonLearning - was at one time the biggest private manager of public schools.
In 2000 Christie and Palatucci lobbied on Edison Schools’ behalf for New Jersey Assembly Bill 1344 to “establish required funding level for charter school students and revises procedure for evaluation of the charter school program.” And in 2001 they lobbied for, on Edison’s behalf, Assembly Bill 3756 to increase state aid to charter schools in struggling districts known in New Jersey as “Abbott districts” after a state supreme court case that mandated poorer communities receive state funding for public education.
Christie’s interest in using Abbott districts as zones for experimentation in privatizing aspects of public education would continue into his tenure as governor. While Governor of New Jersey Christie has promoted the growth of charter schools to unprecedented levels within the state and is gearing up for a renewed push for vouchers in second term. Abbott districts are the focus of the “reform” movement as the state can take them over to bypass local opposition. Something extremely difficult to do in the wealthier communities in the state.
Christie’s relationship with Edison would also prove long lasting as his appointment for New Jersey Commissioner of Education was a former Edison School executive, Chris Cerf. In fact, while Christie served as Edison School Inc.’s registered lobbyist Cerf was chief counsel for the company. Cerf would go on to be President and COO of Edison.
However though Christie’s star would rise after lobbying for his client Edison would fall on hard times. In 2001, while Christie and Palatucci were Edison’s lobbyists in Trenton the company was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ultimately resulting in a cease and desist letter for Edison’s claims of profitability.
In 2002 Edison would go private after receiving a bailout from, in an ironic twist, the Florida Pension System which makes investments for the state’s public school teachers. The bailout was approved by “ed reform” advocate and then Governor of Florida Jeb Bush.
Along with Edison Schools Inc, The Securities Industry Association, and University of Phoenix Online, Palatucci and Christie worked for local interests such as Mid-Atlantic Power and Hackensack Medical Center attempting to ease state regulations and obtain government funds.
The full documents can be viewed below.
* If you have any issues viewing the documents please email me. ds83wright [at] gmail.com
Photo by Gage under Creative Commons license.