NJ-GOV: Keep the Money, Chris

New Jersey and Virginia elect governors this year, and Republicans stand a good chance of taking both. In the Garden State, the GOP likely has a very strong challenger in former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, if he makes it through the primary against former Mayor of Bogota (Bergen County), Steve Lonegan. Christie made his name putting corrupt Democratic politicians in jail, so the primary should be little more than a formality and a tune-up for the eventual fall campaign against a very well-funded and powerful Democratic machine in the state. Christie has an excellent chance of unseating Governor John Corzine (D) if he can prove himself competent on issues other than public corruption.

It is on that issue, however, Christie’s strength, that some Democrats are trying to attack him. They would love to paint Christie as one of a kind with their corrupt crowd. Democrats know that for Republicans, hypocrisy is a campaign-killer, even as it seems to be a resume enhancement for them. But their first venture down this line of attack will fall flat, if Christie continues to follow his instincts.

Democrats and their allies in the media are alleging that while at the U.S. Attorney’s office, Christie was feathering his own future campaign nest by forcing firms under investigation to hire monitoring contractors who would repay Christie in campaign contributions. If it sound far-fetched, it’s because it is. Nonetheless, the allegations have made it into the press, and naturally, Christie’s campaign has been asked to respond.

“A former federal prosecutor running for New Jersey governor accepted campaign contributions from a lawyer he awarded a no-bid, multimillion-dollar contract to while serving as U.S. Attorney, according to state election records.

Former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie took $23,800 in donations this year from principles in Stern & Kilcullen of Roseland and their spouses, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission records. […]

As U.S. Attorney, Christie named Herbert Stern to oversee operations at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in 2005 rather than prosecute the school on Medicare fraud charges. Stern and his wife Martha each contributed the maximum allowable_$3,400.

Stern, a former federal judge, was paid about $3 million for two year’s work as a federal monitor.”

The story is completely bogus and transparent attempt to dirty up Christie in advance of the general election. And sure enough, Newsday quotes Democrat Representative Frank Pallone, who (surprise!) has introduced a bill in Congress to tighten oversight of just this kind of monitoring contracts between U.S. Attorneys and outside firms. State Senator Loretta Weinberg (D), has called on Christie to return the money.

So far, Christie is sticking to his guns and keeping the contributions. This is exactly the right course to take. Even the Newsday story has to admit, in paragraph 12 of 16, that the contributions do not violate state anti-pay-to-play rules, since the monitoing contracts were handed out by the federal government.

This desparate line of attack will not stick to Christie, unless he gives the public some reason to doubt his impeccable reputation. The surest way he can do that is to return the money, and give voters pause to wonder whether he did something wrong in taking it. This is exactly what Democrats want him to do, of course. But the bottom line is that nobody will believe Christie was for seven years choosing monitors with the intent of shaking them down for campaign donations at some later date. Not even in corrupt New Jersey. Anybody who would buy what the Democrats are peddling on this issue would not have voted for Christie anyhow.

Christopher Christie has a chance to wear the white hat in a state government filled with far too many black ones. He alone has the moral authority to clean up the capital and help to restore trust in state government in an electorate yearning for someone to look up to in Trenton. The phony smear attacks on his character by Democrats, eager to see conditions in New Jersey politics stay exactly as they are, will not work; unless Christie legitimizes them. Democrats will almost certainly continue to try, however. Christie should remain focused on the twin goals of beating Corzine in November and cleaning up state government. He should not let cynical Democrats and their minor distractions stand in the way.