A federal audit of Sandy aid money used to produce "Stronger than the Storm" TV commercials was described as "routine and standard" by Gov. Christie's office Monday, despite claims by a Democratic congressman that the spending was inappropriate.

Governor Christie in the "Stronger than the storm" commercial
Governor Christie in the "Stronger than the storm" commercial (YouTube)

At New Jersey's request, federal officials originally granted a waiver to permit $25 million in Sandy recovery grant money to be spent on the marketing campaign.

While acknowledging the waiver, Rep. Frank Pallone sent an Aug. 8, 2013 audit request to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, targeting the bidding process for the campaign.

Pallone said Monday that HUD's Inspector General has now notified his office that it has "found enough evidence to justify a full scale audit" which will take "several months" to complete.

"This was money that could have directly been used for Sandy recovery," Pallone said. "And, as you know, many of my constituents still haven't gotten the money that is owed them to rebuild their homes or raise their homes or to help."

Gov. Christie's office quickly dismissed Pallone's statement Monday.

"Federal agency reviews are routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly," Christie spokesman Colin Reed said. "We're confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history.”

Reed cited congressional testimony from HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan last year, calling the marketing campaign effective in promoting economic recovery in Sandy-devastated areas and "clearly within the legal boundaries of what Congress has determined the program can be used for. . ."  Donovan was addressing a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Hurricane Sandy on Nov. 6.

The Democratic mayors of two Jersey Shore towns also defended the ad campaign Monday, in comments made to the Star-Ledger.

Democrats and Republicans traded barbs about the Sandy recovery ads during Christie's successful re-election campaign last year, with Pallone specifically questioning why the state chose to award the contract to a firm that charged the state over $2 million more than a comparable bid for similar work.

However, a Monmouth University Poll last August found 63 percent of New Jerseyans approved of the ad campaign.


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