Advocacy groups sue Gov. Christie over travel security costs

AP News
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Posted: Aug 21, 2015 6:00 PM
Advocacy groups sue Gov. Christie over travel security costs

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A trio of left-leaning advocacy groups sued Gov. Chris Christie on Friday for using taxpayer dollars to pay for his security detail's travel expenses as he campaigns across the country in his quest to win the Republican nomination for the White House.

The New Jersey Working Families Alliance and New Jersey Citizen Action are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Mercer County, accusing Christie of violating his fiduciary duty to the state by forcing taxpayers to cover the cost of his security details' accommodations and other expenses while he's campaigning,

The suit asks the court to find that actions by Christie and Chris Christie for President Inc. "constitute a wrongful and unprivileged conversion of taxpayer funds" and that they should reimburse the state.

They're also taking issue with any role state employees may have played in his campaign launch.

A spokeswoman for Christie's campaign and his office declined to immediately comment. But Christie has long argued his campaign shouldn't have to pay the costs for his Executive Protection Unit when he's traveling for political purposes because the state police protection is mandatory regardless of what he's doing.

"In the end, anywhere I go, the troopers need to go, whether I want them to go or not," Christie recently told reporters during a trip to New Hampshire. "So we're going to continue to conduct this in the same way I've always conducted it." Other governors have followed the same protocol.

His administration has spent more than $1 million on out-of-state security costs since Christie took office in 2010.

Christie has been spending the majority of his time on the road in recent weeks as he campaigns in a crowded field of GOP candidates. He was in New Hampshire earlier this week, and he'll be in Iowa for a weekend visit at the state's annual state fair.

"Our main concern here is that the governor has been deriving a private gain through the use of what we contend are public funds," Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, told The Associated Press.

Christie's competitors have taken different approaches when it comes to reimbursement.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign is covering all travel-related costs for his trooper protection, said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another governor running for the White House, has sided with Christie in having taxpayers cover the costs. In June, he vetoed state lawmakers' attempts to curb taxpayer spending on his campaign travel.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich also reportedly charges the state for his security costs while campaigning. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

A bill that would force Christie and all future governors to reimburse New Jersey taxpayers for travel and security expenses stemming from out-of-state political trips has been working its way through the state legislature.

A judge recently ruled that the state doesn't have to release an itemized breakdown of previous expenses incurred by the troopers out of state.