One of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) top fundraisers, real estate developer Jon Hanson, has become the latest member of the governor's inner circle to come under fire for his business dealings.
A joint venture that included Hanson's Hampshire Companies, based in Morristown, N.J., was awarded a $105 million tax incentive last year by Christie's administration for an office building and hotel project in Paterson, The Guardian newspaper reported Monday.
The deal was made possible by a change to state law backed by the Christie administration, The Guardian reported. Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones (D) told the newspaper it may have been a "special sweetheart deal." Jones said the state legislature should investigate.
"I’m not clear that this is a clean process,” Jones told the newspaper. "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."
The tax credits were approved by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, made up of Christie appointees. The Hampshire Companies partnered with a nonprofit organization, Medical Missions, for the development project.
After receiving questions from the Guardian, a spokesman for the Hampshire Companies told the paper the firm “decided that they won’t be able to participate in this opportunity.”
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.
In December, the Economic Development Authority awarded an "Urban Transit Hub" tax credit to the Hampshire Companies-Medical Missions joint venture. The credits are intended to reward development projects near commuter rail stations, in the hopes of building up some of the state's underdeveloped downtowns.
To qualify for the credit, a project in Paterson needed to be within a half-mile of a city rail station. Under these rules, the proposed development would not have been eligible, The Guardian found. But just two months before the Hampshire Companies purchased the property, the maximum distance from a rail station was expanded, and the Hanson project was suddenly eligible.
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts told the Guardian that “program funding is awarded based on a strict, objective review process” and “the governor’s office has no role in that process whatsoever.”
Hanson has benefitted from a grant from the Economic Development Authority before. In late 2011, the agency awarded a $10.7 million grant to Realogy, a real estate conglomerate, to help it lease property from the Hampshire Companies after a deal with a different tenant fell through.
Hampshire started building on the property in 2012, and Christie attended the groundbreaking ceremony. "The noise you hear around us is the greatest noise I can hear as governor," Christie said at the event, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. "It's the noise of construction."
Hanson's ties to Christie also extend to insurance giant Prudential, where Hanson retired from the board of directors in May 2011. Later that year, the company received a $250 million tax incentive from the Economic Development Authority to move its Newark headquarters a few blocks.
Until recently, Christie was viewed by many as a top GOP contender for the 2016 presidential nomination. But since a legislative committee report in January found Christie staffers involved in creating a politically motivated traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, his administration has struggled under a cloud of scandal that has engulfed staff and top allies.
In March, David Samson -- the Christie-appointed chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- resigned after the federal prosecutors leading a grand jury probe started examining potential conflicts between Samson's votes and the interests of his law firm's clients.
The Manhattan District Attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission also are investigating dealings involving top Port Authority officials.