New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is being criticized by Democrats for appearing with his family in a new federally funded commercial to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore after the area was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Christie's appearance, first reported Thursday morning by the Star-Ledger, is part of a $25 million ad campaign, paid for with part of the $60 billion in federal funds given to the state following last year's storm.
The Garden State's governor traditionally appears in tourism ads, but a Democratic state lawmaker has now introduced legislation to prohibit those holding the office of governor and lieutenant governor from appearing in taxpayer-funded commercials in an election year.
The campaign of State Sen. Barbara Buono (D), Christie's opponent in this year's governor's race, also criticized the ad. Buono spokesman David Turner questioned Christie's decision to appear in the ad, saying it went against the governor's political message and that he found Christie's participation different from that of his predecessors.
"There is a difference when you rage against government and you then take federal dollars and have a $25 million ad that is a picture of you and your family on the shore," Turner told The Huffington Post.
The majority of the commercial features of images of the rebuilt Jersey Shore over music. At the end of the spot, Christie and his family appear, with the governor, the state's first lady Mary Pat Christie and two of their children saying a few words. (The Christies' other two children have non-speaking roles.)
"The Jersey Shore is open. The word is spreading. Because we're stronger than the storm. You bet we are," the Christies say.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak told the Star-Ledger that the advertising firm that produced the ad asked the Christies to appear. The use of the Sandy relief funds to pay for the commercial was approved by the Obama Administration, he said.
At least four previous New Jersey governors -- Republicans Tom Kean, Christine Todd Whitman and Donald DiFrancesco and Democrat Jim McGreevey -- have been in tourism commercials for the state. DiFrancesco appeared alongside his wife, Diane, in a series of commercials during his one-year term. McGreevey's ad featured his then wife, Dina Matos, and their daughter standing next to the governor while he said, "Come out and see what's new in New Jersey." In his ads, Kean walked on the beach and said, "New Jersey and you, perfect together."
Ads like Christie's are common in other states. Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) starred in tourism commercials during his tenure, and in Kansas, former Secretary of State Chris Biggs (D) appeared in state-funded voter education commercials that aired during his 2010 campaign. Former Kansas Securities Commissioner Aaron Jack (R), who recently dropped a 2014 bid for state insurance commissioner, was criticized for appearing in state-funded ads while heading the securities agency.
In 2011, Kansas lawmakers adopted a ban on elected officials starring in taxpayer-funded commercials in the run-up to an election, according to state Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco).
John Weingart, the associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said he does not see Christie's involvement with the tourism campaign hurting the governor politically, since part of his job is to promote the state. He also noted that Christie has been the public face of New Jersey's recovery from Sandy.
"Chris Christie is the governor and getting people back to the Jersey Shore is a big deal," Weingart said. "This year particularly, where there is a push to rebuild the Shore and get tourists back, the governor's job is to help. When you have a celebrity governor like we do at the moment, it's helpful."