US auditors said Monday they are investigating the Republican frontrunner for the White House for allegedly wasting $2.2 million of relief funds on ads starring him and his family.
If proven, the claims could deal a heavy blow to the presidential ambitions of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, already reeling over a political revenge scandal.
Christie was credited with decisive leadership when the devastating Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast in 2012.
But Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone wants him investigated over claims he improperly used tax payers’ relief funds for personal political gain in the run-up to his 2013 re-election.
The television commercials, ostensibly to promote tourism on the reconstructed Jersey shore, featured the governor and his family.
The Inspector General of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development is probing Christie’s decision to award the $4.7 million contract — $2.2 million more than a lower bid that did not propose featuring the governor in the ads.
“We received a request from Congress and we are performing an audit to address those concerns,” a spokesman for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) told AFP.
There was no immediate reaction from Christie’s office.
Pallone welcomed the audit.
“I commend the HUD office of the inspector general for investigating whether the state properly utilized taxpayer funds for this marketing campaign,” Pallone said Monday.
He has alleged that the cheaper bid would have saved $2.2 million in federal disaster aid, which could, for example, have provided 44 Sandy-affected homeowners with $50,000 grants.
“We had to fight hard to get the Sandy aid package passed by assuring others in Congress the funding was desperately needed and would be spent responsibly,” said Pallone.
His office said the audit was expected to last several months and would culminate in an official report.
Christie was forced to sack a staffer who in August worked to block lanes on a major bridge, apparently as an act of retribution against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Christie’s re-election for a second term.
The governor is also facing a lawsuit over the massive traffic jams. He has apologized repeatedly and said he was unaware of the alleged dirty tricks, unveiled in news reports last week.