Chris Christie dreamed of becoming president. Now, he’s settling for a different role in Washington: lobbyist.
The former New Jersey governor is making big money from businesses trying to tap the gusher of coronavirus relief funds coming from the federal government. Newly filed disclosures show Christie’s firm pulled in $240,000 in less than three months for lobbying the Trump administration on coronavirus aid on behalf of three New Jersey hospital systems and a Tennessee-based chain of addiction treatment centers.
Christie appears to be leaning on his ties to the administration as he makes his way on K Street. In a pitch to consult for Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority earlier this year, Christie bragged that he had served as chairman of Donald Trump’s transition effort to staff the federal government — leaving out that he was ousted days after Trump unexpectedly won the 2016 election.
Christie is hardly the first former governor to land on K Street. But it’s unusual for a former presidential candidate who hasn’t ruled out running again to become a lobbyist, especially without joining a major Washington firm. And he’s off to a fast start pulling in business: Christie registered to lobby for the first time only last month, in the middle of a lobbying boom fueled by the federal government’s multitrillion-dollar response to the pandemic.
Christie and his former chief of staff, Rich Bagger, lobbied the Department of Health and Human Services on coronavirus relief on behalf of the New Jersey hospitals. The department was in charge of distributing $175 billion meant to keep health care providers afloat during the pandemic, as hospitals were forced to cancel lucrative elective surgeries this spring to prepare for a wave of coronavirus patients.
RWJBarnabas, which operates dozens of hospitals and medical centers throughout New Jersey, secured tens of millions of dollars from the Provider Relief Fund through its affiliates — including nearly $87 million for Saint Barnabas Medical Center and another $16.7 million for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Rahway, according to federal data.
Another sprawling hospital system that hired Christie, Hackensack Meridian Health, had gotten at least $146 million for three of its locations by May, according to lists put out by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) of hospitals in his district that received coronavirus relief funds. Five hospitals owned by Atlantic Health, which also hired Christie, got at least $160 million, according to Pallone.
It’s not clear exactly what role Christie — who started lobbying for the hospitals on May 4, according to disclosure filings — played in helping them secure the funds. Reached by phone on Tuesday, Christie declined to comment and hung up.
But the pitch to the Puerto Rican fiscal agency — which went on to hire Christie as a consultant — spells out what he’s selling to clients. Christie has “worked closely during three Presidential Administrations with the Executive Office of the President and Cabinet level officials across the U.S. government, in addition to bilateral engagement with government leaders around the world,” the pitch reads.
“Hackensack Meridian Health was at the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in New Jersey and continues to prepare for a future surge,” Mary Jo Layton, a spokesperson for the hospital system, said in a statement to POLITICO, crediting Christie for advocating on its behalf for “critical funding for our hospitals.”
Lobbying for Hackensack Meridian Health is a return to form for Christie: He lobbied for state grants for Hackensack University Medical Center, which is part of the health system, two decades ago as a young lawyer before President George W. Bush tapped him to be a U.S. attorney.
Christie also lobbied HHS as well as the White House for CleanSlate Centers, a chain of dozens of addiction treatment centers. Christie in 2017 served as chairman of a commission set up by Trump on combating the opioid crisis alongside former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who’s now on CleanSlate’s board.
Christie’s lobbying for the company included working to secure coronavirus relief funds, an issue that was particularly fraught for some addiction treatment centers that initially struggled to access the provider relief funding. CleanSlate has so far received $1.8 million in federal aid overall, the company said.
An HHS spokesperson would not directly address whether Christie met with senior officials there on behalf of his clients.
“HHS staff and leadership on occasion meet with industry leaders and their representatives,” the spokesperson said. “When having these meetings, ethics rules and regulations are followed.”
Christie’s decision to forgo the chance to join the Trump administration — he told CNBC last year he’d turned down offers to serve as Labor secretary and Homeland Security secretary and an ambassadorship — to pursue more lucrative opportunities is hardly a surprise.
As his term as governor was winding down in 2017, Christie told Bloomberg News he’d “loved” his 16 years in government. “But I think that what is much more likely for me when I leave is to go into the private sector and start making some money,” he said.
Christie ventured into the private sector shortly after leaving office in 2018, earning $800,000 plus stock options consulting for Pacira BioSciences, a New Jersey pharmaceutical company. But Christie didn’t register as a lobbyist until last month, when he filed paperwork disclosing his work for CleanSlate and the New Jersey hospitals.
In addition to Bagger, Christie’s firm, Christie 55 Solutions, also employs his wife, Mary Pat Christie, and Bob Martin, who served as New Jersey’s environmental protection commissioner while Christie was governor. Neither Martin nor Mary Pat Christie have registered as lobbyists.
Christie’s firm consults for clients on issues including crisis management, disaster recovery, health care, trade, energy, financial service, sports betting and government relations, according to the firm’s website.
Christie’s foray into coronavirus lobbying came as many Washington lobbying firms were doing record business advocating for clients affected by the pandemic. Nearly a dozen prominent firms — including Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, BGR Group, Invariant — saw their highest lobbying revenue ever in the second quarter, although not all of the uptick was driven by pandemic-related work.
The boom has been driven in part by health care companies such as Tenet Healthcare, a Dallas-based hospital chain that added two lobbying firms, Brownstein Hyatt and the Carmen Group. Tenet paid the two firms $390,000 in the second quarter to lobby on coronavirus relief, according to disclosure filings.
Christie hasn’t limited his lobbying to coronavirus relief.
As well as consulting for Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, Christie also lobbied the White House on behalf of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the island’s troubled public utility. He and Bagger pressed for help to aid “recovery from the hurricanes and earthquakes that have impacted Puerto Rico, including FEMA approved projects and funding,” according to a disclosure filing.
Fernando Padilla, the authority’s project management officer, said in a statement that Christie is helping with strategy to secure “funds across various sources in the Federal Government.” His contract with the authority is worth $25,000 a month and runs through the end of the year.