Federal Auditors Review Use of Sandy Aid for Ads

By Desirée Taylor
Senior Correspondent

The Christie administration spent millions of dollars in federal Sandy aid on the “Stronger Than The Storm” ad campaign to promote the Jersey Shore — a campaign that prominently featured the governor and his family.

“My feeling was that it smelled,” said Congressman Frank Pallone. “This was the block grant, the community development block grant money and he needed to get a waiver from HUD in order to do that ad campaign. This money could have been used as an alternative to help my constituents.”

Pallone says a preliminary review warranted the need for audit by the inspector general. But a spokesperson for the governor’s office claims federal agency reviews are routine. Colin Reed says, “The ‘Stronger Than The Storm’ campaign was approved by the Obama administration and developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business.” Reed goes on to say, “We’re confident that any review will show 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.”

Several Jersey Shore mayors and business groups still support the ad. But critics like Pallone question why the PR firm MWW won the contract to produce the ad campaign, even though a company called Sigma offered a lower bid.

“It’s not doing the advertising that is bothering me. It’s fact that the low bidder wasn’t chosen and the one chosen was twice the price,” Pallone said.

But MWW Spokesperson William Murray says, “MWW’s proposal included no mention or suggestion of using the governor in the paid advertising campaign. The decision to include the governor was arrived at after the contract was awarded.” And he claims, “MWW’s final proposal came in at the lower overall bid by $1.47 million and offered the lowest hourly rates of all bidders.”

Meanwhile, the losing bidder the Sigma Group says it looks forward to the outcome of the audit. CEO Shannon Morris says, “We’ve been frustrated and disappointed about the price discrepancy since we first heard about it in August 2013.”

The audit is expected to take several months to complete. Once it’s finished, a report will be issued that could shed more light on the controversy.