For years, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has faced questions about whether he has unduly rewarded energy and investment industry donors with state government favors. Now the spotlight has turned to another major donor who appears to have been treated well by Christie's administration: Donald Trump.
According to a report Wednesday in the New York Times, Trump casinos saw their tax bill reduced by roughly $25 million, when the Christie administration agreed to settle a longstanding lawsuit over back taxes for pennies on the dollar. Christie's predecessors had taken Trump's empire to court, alleging it owed nearly $30 million in unpaid taxes and interest — but after Christie came into office, state officials agreed to drop the case in exchange for just $5 million, according to the newspaper.
The 2011 settlement followed Trump pumping $170,000 into the Republican Governors Association — which backed Christie's election campaign — in 2009 and 2010, according to data compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com. That was part of the total $620,000 he would end up giving to the group, which was ultimately chaired by Christie in 2014.
The disclosure that Christie's administration settled a lawsuit against a major RGA donor come a little more than a year after the Christie administration similarly settled a landmark state lawsuit against ExxonMobil for pennies on the dollar. That case, which was initiated in 2004 by Democrat and then-Gov. James McGreevey, initially sought $8.9 billion for environmental damage to 1,500 acres of waterfront acres and meadows. Christie’s administration settled the suit for just $250 million — a sum that International Business Times calculated could be raised by the company in about five hours, based on the company’s 2014 revenues.
The settlement followed a wave of ExxonMobil campaign donations to the RGA. In total, ExxonMobil gave $1.9 million to that group since Christie first ran for governor in 2009 and early last year. That includes $79,000 during his initial campaign, $200,000 during his reelection campaign in 2013 and $500,000 when he was chairman of the RGA in 2014.
Lawsuit settlements are only one public policy area where donors to Christie-linked political groups have benefited from Christie administration decisions. Other examples include:
- In 2015, the Christie administration's pension overseers approved a $100 million state investment in private equity firm KSL Capital. The firm's founder and chairman is Mike Shannon, who along with his wife donated $2.5 million to the RGA in the two years prior to the investment. About one-fifth of that, $500,000, came in 2013 when the RGA was backing Christie’s reelection bid. The rest was donated in 2014 when Christie chaired the group.
- Christie's pension officials approved multimillion-dollar state investments in Third Point LLC, Elliott Associates and Lazard Rathmore — each of whose executives have made large contributions to the RGA. Those officials also approved a state investment in General Catalyst just after Charlie Baker — a businessman associated with the firm who is now governor of Massachusetts — gave Christie's state party $10,000.
- A 2014 IBT investigation showed that various companies had made major contributions to the RGA while receiving state contracts from Christie's administration. Because they were made to the RGA — and not directly to Christie's own campaign — the donations skirted New Jersey laws restricting contributions from state contractors.