Democrats Breathe New Life Into Faded/Nonexistent Chris Christie Scandal

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 13 2014 11:14 AM

Democrats Breathe New Life Into Faded/Nonexistent Chris Christie Scandal

The CNN headline is a gut-puncher: "Feds Investigate Christie's Use of Sandy Relief Funds." The mind races and imagines all the ways well-intentioned few-strings money could be abused by politicians. What did Christie do? What. Did. He. Do?

As far as we know, nothing that he hasn't been criticized for since last summer. More CNN:

In the new probe, federal auditors will examine New Jersey's use of $25 million in Sandy relief funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore after Sandy decimated the state's coastline in late 2012, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone told CNN
In an August letter, Pallone asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general to look into how Christie chose to spend the marketing money approved by the department.
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Christie's role in the PR campaign has been a source of irritation since even longer than that. If you don't live/don't visit family in the tristate area, you might have missed the ubiquitous "Stronger Than the Storm" campaign. Reminscent of one of those "Foundation for a Better Life" ads, it combined the New Jersey traditions of beach frolicking and mind-numbling pop-rock to demonstrate just how much the shore had recovered. In every ad, Christie and his rather less dramatically inclined family members recited from a script about how the state was "stronger than the storm."

The ad was not a bust. Christie was more popular than most politicians at the time, with approval numbers in the 70s. The whole campaign seemed less flagrant than, say the post-9/11 New York tourism ads paid for by the state and featuring George Pataki. But Democrats cried "misuse" and "campaign ads" right away.* Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, joked that seeing Chris Christie at the beach didn't exactly make her want to run there; Christie accused her of making a fat joke.

The point is that this investigation has been brewing for a long time; it goes in the Christie scandal pile. It's really the recent leaks of sociopathic staffer emails about the Fort Lee bridge closures that give Democrats confidence they might find something in the Sandy money story.

*I called up Brushfire, the New Jersey firm that made the ads, and didn't hear back this morning. 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.