New Jersey Families Left Frustrated, Waiting

(Trenton) -- Two new Wall Street Journal articles highlight growing concerns of cronyism and abuse in the contracts the Christie administration awarded to provide federally-funded relief to the victims of superstorm Sandy while New Jersey shore families suffer further frustration.

“Apparently the national spotlight and a lust for campaign cash are blinding Governor Christie to the fact that the superstorm Sandy relief efforts have been painfully slow and plagued by the appearance of corruption,” said New Jersey Democratic State Committee communications director Matt Farrauto. “It’s reprehensible that New Jersey’s families are becoming victims of Governor Christie’s cronyism.”

•    Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Louisiana firm that awarded a $68million contract to run New Jersey's main federally funded housing programs for superstorm Sandy victims, Hammerman & Gainer Inc., or HGI, is represented by Christie confidant Glenn Paulsen, the former chief of the Burlington County Republicans. Interestingly, as Governor Christie was wooing national donors in Las Vegas last May, Paulsen’s firm, Capehart Scatchard, was making a $25,000 donation to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Capehart Scatchard, which has contracts with state agencies, is prohibited from giving Christie more than $300 in campaign contributions. As reported in the New York Times, donating to independent political groups such as the RGA helps “carefully choreographed independent spending campaigns… undermine the rules meant to curtail the political influence of government contractors.” At least two other companies with Sandy-related contracts also gave to the association this year.

•    Another Wall Street Journal article reported that HGI is accruing new complaints as they administer two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. New Jersey “homeowners say they have struggled to get answers to basic questions, that their paperwork has been misplaced and that it has been difficult to reach HGI employees by phone.” Housing advocates say the company's recovery centers change rules midstream and are largely staffed with temporary workers. No reconstruction program grants to the thousands of applicants already deemed eligible have been awarded yet. "We have made mistakes,” conceded Richard Constable, commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the agency managing Sandy rebuilding.

•    Meanwhile, as the Star-Ledger has reported that  “Federal investigators are questioning Christie administration officials over how they awarded a no-bid contract to a politically connected contractor to haul the mountains of debris left by Hurricane Sandy.” Just as Sandy struck, Christie, at the advice of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, awarded Florida-based contractor AshBritt a lucrative no-bid contract to remove debris from Hurricane Sandy. Barbour, a GOP super lobbyist and former Chair of the Republican Governor’s Association (a position Governor Christie aspires to hold), is a founding partner in the lobbying firm that has represented AshBritt’s interests in Washington. Just days after, Ashbritt donated $50,000 to the RGA. The AshBritt contract allowed 53 municipalities to hire the firm, which overcharged eight shore towns more than $300,000. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that using a no-bid contract could jeopardize federal reimbursements.

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