Michele Brown has been New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s top economic adviser the last three years. She was the head of the state Economic Development Authority (EDA).
It was a job Christie recommended for her, states the Courier-Press.
Recently, she apparently left that job for a new one with the business marketing group Choose New Jersey.
As Choose New Jersey’s president and chief executive officer, Brown will have a salary of $450,000, double what she made with the state, and will advocate for public utilities, corporations and contractors — the same entities that received lucrative state contracts and tax breaks while Brown was at the EDA.
Choose New Jersey is a non-profit organization with a $3 million budget generated by membership fees from companies prevented by pay-to-play laws from donating to the governor, according to the Courier-Post. Many of the companies employ their own lobbyists. Oddly, that seems to make her salary almost 1/6th of their budget.
Her first day as leader of Choose New Jersey was Feb. 16, according to The Courier-Post.
But Michele Brown is maintaining close ties to the Republican governor, raising questions on whether she’ll have immense influence with her longtime boss.
Questions about Michele Brown started arising in 2009, when it came out that she accepted a $46,000 loan from her boss Christie. The loan was given in 2007 when Mr. Christie was a U.S. attorney and she was a subordinate in his office.
Brown was a federal prosecutor in New Jersey and resigned that post in 2009 amid the controversy over the loan from Christie. Christie’s failure to disclose the loan became an issue in his first gubernatorial campaign in 2009, but the loan has since been repaid.
Brown was behind the award of a $25 million state contract for Sandy Hurricane recovery TV commercials with Governor Chris Christie in a starring role. At the EDA, Brown led a contract evaluation panel that chose the “Stronger Than the Storm’’ marketing campaign that featured Christie in 2013. The winning contractor proposed putting Christie in the ads and – oddly – charged nearly twice the amount for labor and markup costs than the second-place bidder would have charged.
New Jersey has “revolving door’’ laws in place designed to restrict the influence of former state officials on government policy. However, the rules don’t cover Brown’s job change or prevent Brown from pursuing more tax breaks for her group’s members, said former state Sen. William Schluter, a Republican and past member of the State Ethics Commission.
“If someone who was a lawmaker or head of a certain department wanted to become a lobbyist, they’d have to wait at least a year. That doesn’t apply here,” said Schluter.
A number of other states have post-employment cooling-off periods, which mandate a length of time before a former government regulator may begin work within the industry he or she once regulated.
Long Branch resident Jerry Zaro, who headed the state Office of Economic Growth under former Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, said Brown “is too talented to sit on the sidelines.’’ Zaro is an attorney at Sills Cummis & Gross – a Choose New Jersey member.
“Any incentives that are fair for the business community, all the better. Remember, the incentives only come out of taxes that would otherwise never be paid if a business wasn’t enticed to stay or come to our state,’’ Zaro said.
“Michele Brown is great,’’ he added. “She’s a quick study and a good hire. If you’re playing a football game and you have Tom Brady on the team, do you want to him to sit out a series of downs just for the sake of sitting out?’’
Choose New Jersey partially funded Christie’s recent trip to the United Kingdom, and has also covered some of his travel bills to Canada and Mexico within the last six months.
Brown went on all three trips, including the U.K. tour. That took place took place after she was hired by Choose New Jersey’s board of directors.
Christie said the three trips were trade missions on behalf of the state but Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, said the tours were designed to promote Christie’s potential presidential campaign.
Lesniak faulted Choose New Jersey for chipping in on the costs.
“I think Choose New Jersey needs to focus on its mission of promoting business rather than promoting Gov. Christie’s political ambitions,’’ Lesniak said. “They should provide a full accounting of its contributors, expenditures and accomplishments.’’
Ben Ray, a spokesman for American Bridge, a Democratic opposition research group keying on Christie as he moves toward a possible bid for the presidency, called Brown’s access to Christie on behalf of Choose New Jersey “more ethical smoke around the governor.’’
The U.S. Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey was recently indicted on charges of corruption. Did Michele Brown play an influential role in the recent indictment? Her role is unclear.
However, according to New Jersey law, if Senator Menendez, a Democrat, were to step down or is removed from office, Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, will get to choose his replacement.
How convenient – more influence by Christie…
New Jersey law reads:
“If a vacancy shall happen in the representation of this State in the United States senate, it shall be filled at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless such vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding such election, in which case it shall be filled by election at the second succeeding general election, unless the governor of this State shall deem it advisable to call a special election therefor, which he is authorized hereby to do…
“The governor of this State may make a temporary appointment of a senator of the United States from this State whenever a vacancy shall occur by reason of any cause other than the expiration of the term; and such appointee shall serve as such senator until a special election or general election shall have been held pursuant to law and the Board of State Canvassers can deliver to his successor a certificate of election.”
In an article by the right-wing publication The Weekly Standard, Daniel Halper wrote: “One Republican suggested to me that should Senator Menendez step down, Christie would likely appoint Joe Kyrillos, the state senator from New Jersey. Kyrillos ran against Menendez in the November election, but ultimately lost…”
(Updated article to post references)