Seven years after his 2013 reelection, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s gubernatorial campaign still owes $1 million in debt stemming from the Bridgegate scandal.
But the moribund campaign may be allowed to stop filing campaign finance reports this year. And there’s no sign that the campaign has sought to pay back its debts, or that either of the companies that are owed the money — a prominent law firm and a cybersecurity firm that billed large monthly amounts to taxpayers during the Christie administration — have made an effort to collect.
According to its latest filing from last month, Christie’s 2013 campaign owes $651,305 to the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs and $364,103 to the digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg, which has since changed its name to Aon’s Cyber Solutions.
The state Election Law Enforcement Commission allows publicly financed gubernatorial campaigns to apply to stop filing reports with the state — essentially canceling the public record of its debt — seven years after the election. That means the Christie campaign is eligible to do so this month.
The Christie campaign took on both firms in early 2014, shortly after Christie’s landslide reelection victory, to respond to federal subpoenas related to the Bridgegate investigation, which looked into the suspicious closing of entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013. The campaign asked ELEC’s permission in February 2014 to resume raising money to pay for the legal work.
In 2009, as it considered the regulation about stopping the filing of reports, ELEC said that “a campaign must be required to demonstrate some degree of good faith in an effort to retire liabilities, rather than simply wait for the proposed seven-year period to lapse.”
But records filed with the commission indicate that Christie, who has proven to be a prolific fundraiser for other campaigns and causes, barely raised any money to retire the debt. After it was granted permission to begin raising money again, Christie’s gubernatorial campaign raised just $4,439 from several donors — even though Christie began an unsuccessful campaign for president the following year in which he raised millions. A few months after Christie dropped out, then-candidate Donald Trump held a fundraiser to pay off Christie’s presidential campaign debts.
Christie — who is earning money in private law practice, through lobbying and as an ABC on-air contributor — is co-chairing a group raising money to help two Republican senators in Georgia who face a runoff in January.
“The [Christie] campaign had a $3,800 contribution limit for any individual or corporation, so anyone who had made a maximum contribution could not contribute one penny more,” said Christie confidant Bill Palatucci, a prominent attorney and a fixture in New Jersey Republican circles. “In addition, New Jersey pay-to-play rules governing any gubernatorial campaign made it near impossible to fundraise for Christie-Guadagno more than a year after the race was over.” (Kim Guadagno served as Christie’s lieutenant governor.)
Meanwhile, the two firms continued to do work for the campaign, incurring more and more debt over several years.
Records show that the Christie gubernatorial campaign paid $140,000 to Patton Boggs from 2014 to 2016 and made one payment of $4,814 to Stroz Friedberg in 2014. Around the same time, Stroz Friedberg was hired by the Christie administration for taxpayer-funded document retention. After Gov. Phil Murphy took office in 2018, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said he was “stunned” to learn that the state was paying Stroz Friedberg $64,000 a month and instead went with a firm that charged a small fraction of that. Squire Patton Boggs also had state contracts under the Christie administration, before and after the Bridgegate scandal. It’s not clear how much it earned, but an attorney for the firm served as special counsel to the state during the Atlantic City takeover, which began in 2016.
Christie is not the first gubernatorial candidate to carry debt long after Election Day. Former GOP candidates Bret Schundler and the late W. Cary Edwards both had campaign debts for years.
ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said that even though seven years have passed since Christie’s reelection, the campaign has not yet applied to stop filing reports.
“If they do apply to terminate, I think the commission would have to make a determination based on the guidelines in the regulation,” Brindle said. (Palatucci did not say if Christie would seek to end filing campaign finance reports with ELEC.)
That regulation required the campaign to outline “the efforts made by the campaign to retire the outstanding obligations, including, without limitation, efforts to compromise or resolve the debt with the vendor or service provider.”
Brindle said that candidates who take public financing, as Christie did, can’t pay off the campaign debt themselves — even if the contributions they’re taking after the campaign are no longer matched by public funds.
“It would still be subject to the $25,000 that a publicly funded candidate can spend on his own money,” Brindle said.