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US: New Jersey made errors in post-Sandy contract

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The federal government says New Jersey did not run afoul of any regulations when Gov. Chris Christie starred in ads that promoted the shore in the summer after Superstorm Sandy hit the state.

But an audit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general finds the state did make mistakes in procuring the marketing contract worth up to $25 million.

A report issued last week and made public Wednesday says the state failed to make independent cost estimates, as required under federal funding rules. It also found the marketing firm that won the contract did not provide timesheets in the form that the federal government required them.

The state's contract with MWW Group created ripples in New Jersey, partly because the firm was proposing a higher cost than other bidders and because it wanted its "Stronger than the Storm" ads to feature Gov. Chris Christie and his family. Critics said the commercials amounted to taxpayer-funded campaign ads for Christie, a Republican who was running for re-election last year when the ads launched.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat, asked HUD's inspector general to look into the questions surrounding the ads.

The HUD investigative office found that no election finance laws were violated and that there was nothing wrong with the content. It found that the winning bid made no mention of using the Republican governor in advertisements, though a losing bidder did plan to have him in a social media campaign.

The report, which notes the state was under pressure to get the ads produced quickly after the October 2012 storm, says the procurement errors were made because the state government was not aware of some of the federal rules.

The audit says that MWW did not initially submit timesheets signed by the employees and did not give documentation for hours employees worked on other projects.

It also says the state has taken steps to fix the problems.

The state ended up paying $23 million — all in federal aid — for the campaign. Most of that went to buy airtime rather than to MWW.

Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill

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