On its face, there's nothing particularly surprising about Gov. Chris Christie campaigning in Cranston on Tuesday with Allan Fung, the GOP nominee for governor of Rhode Island. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie is leading his party's efforts to win statehouses and Fung is running a spirited race.
Yet Christie will be showing support for a candidate who is using the same line of attack against his Democratic opponent, State Treasurer Gina Raimondo, that Christie himself has decried.
That message revolves around how state officials manage the multi-billion-dollar pension funds for police officers, firefighters, teachers and other public employees. Both Raimondo and Christie have put billions of dollars of their respective pension funds under the management of private financial firms, while raising campaign cash from the financial industry.
In both cases, as International Business Times has reported, the shift has coincided with higher fees paid to Wall Street and below-median returns for the pension systems. The states would have made millions more had they avoided "alternative investments" like hedge funds and instead invested the money in traditional stock index funds. With New Jersey's larger pension system, the unrealized returns add up to almost $4 billion.
Confronted with the pension investments' below-median performance, Christie has scoffed at the criticism and said his administration's investment strategy has been satisfactory.
"Nobody should be complaining," Christie said. "The investments have gone very, very well."
Fung's ad declares that "taxpayers have lost millions on [Raimondo's] investments" in Wall Street at the very moment her "campaign is bankrolled by Wall Street." The ad from the Christie-backed group criticizes Raimondo for doing what Christie did: moving money into alternative investments. Those below-median returns cost Rhode Island "$372 million of state pension money.” The Christie-backed ad says Raimondo is "gambling with our retirement and we pay more."
Fung has ridden the ads to a strong lead in polls among Rhode Island's traditionally Democratic union households.
When Christie was asked why he was working to defeat Raimondo, a candidate who had mirrored his state's investment strategy, he avoided any reference to pension investments. "I don’t think I’ve criticized Gina Raimondo,” he said.