Top Christie fundraiser may have gotten “special sweetheart deal”

Real estate developer who received a $105m tax incentive after a change in state law is drawing unwanted attention

By Elias Isquith

Published June 3, 2014 1:59PM (EDT)

Chris Christie                                             (AP/Julio Cortez)
Chris Christie (AP/Julio Cortez)

Since apparently it's a rule that he cannot get through five minutes of his second term without a new embarrassment or scandal rising to the surface, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is now being scrutinized over a $105 million tax incentive that was awarded by the state to Hampshire Companies, a real estate firm run by Jon Hanson, a longtime Christie ally and top fundraiser.

Here's the story: After a change to state law (pushed through by the Christie administration) made it possible, a partnership featuring Hampshire Companies as well as a nonprofit was granted a large tax incentive to build an office building and hotel in Paterson, New Jersey. The tax incentive was approved by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which is run by Christie allies.

The law that was changed mandated that any project receiving tax incentives be within a half-mile of a city rail station. Hanson's project was not. Conveniently, however, two months  before Hampshire Companies bought the property, the law was altered to increase the minimum distance a project must be from a station. Hanson's proposal suddenly qualified.

According to Paterson's Democratic mayor, Jeffery Jones, this sequence of events was potentially too coincidental to pass the smell test. Jones said the Hampshire Companies project may have been a "special sweetheart deal," and that he wasn't "clear that this [was] a clean process.” He continued: "If this person, or anyone, is given a special advantage in the form of the tax credits to do this, I would have some real challenges." He also recommended the state legislature investigate.

Asked for comment, a Christie spokesperson said that “program funding is awarded based on a strict, objective review process” and claimed Christie's office “has no role in that process whatsoever.”

More from HuffPo:

Christie's relationship with Hanson, 77, goes way back. Both men served as top fundraisers for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush in 2000. Hanson has since played an outsized role in Christie's promising political career, largely by directing the fundraising efforts for both of Christie's successful gubernatorial campaigns.

Once in office, Christie appointed Hanson to lead the New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment Advisory Commission, which advises the governor on casino and sports development projects. Many received tax incentives from the Economic Development Authority.

Their collaborations go beyond business. In response to Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the governor's wife, Mary Pat Christie, created the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund charity, with herself as chairman. Hanson's company donated the group office space, she told USA Today last year.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Chris Christie Hampshire Companies Jeffery Jones Jon Hanson New Jersey The Huffington Post