HUD IG: No, This Isn’t a ‘Full-Scale Investigation’ into Christie

by Jim Geraghty

Remember this blockbuster news from Representative Frank Pallone (D., N.J.), that the inspector general of HUD was investigating Chris Christie for his “Stronger Than the Storm” ads? “On Sunday, Pallone told CNN that the inspector general conducted a preliminary review and concluded there was enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation into the state’s use of federal funds.”

The only problem is that it’s not true, according to a statement from HUD’s inspector general issued late yesterday:

On August 8, 2013, this office received a request from Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., regarding the State of New Jersey’s Post-Hurricane Sandy Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan. Audits of Federal expenditures of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including disaster-related activities, are something that this office does routinely. The Department granted a waiver to allow the State to use $25 million of its award on a marketing campaign to promote the Jersey Shore and encourage tourism. An audit was initiated in September 2013 to examine whether the State administered its Tourism Marketing Program in accordance with applicable departmental and Federal requirements. This is an audit and not an investigation of the procurement process. We expect to issue our audit report expeditiously. We will have no further comment until the audit report is issued.

A central point of Pallone’s accusation is that the Christie administration picked one advertising agency over another because one would feature the governor in the tourism ads, and the other didn’t. But that accusation doesn’t appear to hold up, at least according to the written proposal for the ads:

“Given widely inaccurate reporting on Stronger than the Storm, we welcome the Inspector General’s report,” the firm shot back in a statement. “It will show that MWW’s proposal included no mention or suggestion of using the governor in the paid advertising campaign. The decision to include the governor was arrived at after the contract was awarded, based on timing, availability, and federal expenditure rules.”

Springsteen and Bon Jovi were on tour and the deadline was tight, among other reasons, so the public relations firm turned to the Republican governor after winning the bid, according to Josh Zeitz, a senior vice president at MWW.

And Christie was not included in a list of New Jersey “icons” featured in the 205-page ad proposal from MWW, according to a copy reviewed by POLITICO.

CNN, which originally reported Pallone’s accusation, noted the HUD IG’s clarification that it was not investigating the procurement process . . . in the eleventh paragraph of its story.

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