Earlier this month, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson dismissed an Open Public Records Act suit filed by New Jersey Watchdog investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist which would have forced Governor Chris Christie to release receipts of the $1.1 million in American Express charges for food, lodging, and other travel expenses that have been spent by his state police security team since 2010.
According to The Record, Judge Jacobson ruled that releasing those details would put Gov. Christie’s security at risk after she reviewed secret evidence presented by Captain Kevin Cowan, head of Christie’s Executive Protection Unit. Capt. Cowan reportedly swore “unequivocally” that the release of his unit’s expense records would pose a security threat.
Explaining the in-state controversy over Gov. Christie’s travel expenses, Lagerkvist wrote, “The Executive Protection Unit’s travel expenses increased with the frequency of Christie’s out-of-state trips to pursue his political ambitions, including his run for the White House. Last year, costs totaled $494,420 as the governor traveled outside New Jersey for more than 100 days. That sum is 22 times more than the $21,704 spent in 2009, former Gov. Jon Corzine’s last year in office.” He added, “While Christie’s [presidential] campaign may pay for his [campaign] travel expenses, state taxpayers are stuck with the costs of the state police officers assigned to follow him wherever he goes.”
A July Monmouth University poll found that 82 percent of N.J. residents want Christie to reimburse taxpayers for travel security expenses related to his presidential aspirations, which he has refused to do. Presidential candidate and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, on the other hand, is reimbursing his state’s taxpayers for similar expenses through a political action committee associated with his presidential campaign.
At a May hearing over the Open Public Records request, Lagerkvist showed Judge Jacobson a YouTube video, seen below, in which Gov. Christie revealed to a Boy Scout at a town hall meeting specific details about the number of officers that accompany him when he travels to events. Judge Jacobson, who later ruled in Christie’s favor, said at that time, “The governor speaks so freely about this, how can I conclude that releasing these details on amount of food and so forth could really in any significant way undermine the governor’s security?”
Court filings note that Capt. Cowan told Judge Jacobson that Christie’s admission at the town hall did not expose how the Executive Protection Unit conducts security while he is traveling out of state, meaning the release of expense records would provide even more information about the governor’s security detail. “He explained in detail how they are fundamentally different – and that is something that is confidential,” said Judge Jacobson.
According to The Record, Lagerkvist said, “These should be public records. Why should taxpayers be paying for our governor to chase his political ambitions elsewhere?”
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