Before Gov. Chris Christie’s administration abruptly settled long-running state environmental litigation against ExxonMobil for far less than originally expected, the oil behemoth donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Republican group that Christie ran and that financed his election campaigns. Additionally, the Christie administration office that engineered the settlement had been run by a former Exxon lawyer.
When the case was initiated in 2004, when Democrat James McGreevey was governor, New Jersey sought $8.9 billion in damages in a suit alleging that ExxonMobil damaged more than 1,500 acres of waterfront and meadows. Yet, according to documents reported on by the New York Times on Friday, the Christie administration is settling the suit for just $250 million. Based on ExxonMobil's 2014 revenue of $411.9 billion, it will take the company roughly 5 hours to generate the sales to pay out the settlement.
Federal records show that the reduction, which represents a huge gift to ExxonMobil, follows a wave of campaign cash from the company to the Christie-run Republican Governors Association.
Since Christie's first run for governor in 2009, ExxonMobil has donated more than $1.9 million to the group, according to data compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com. That includes $79,000 during Christie’s 2009 campaign and $200,000 during his re-election campaign in 2013. It also includes $500,000 when he chaired the organization during the 2014 election cycle.
ExxonMobil was one of the top contributors to the RGA during that election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
According to New Jersey state documents, ExxonMobil has employed the firm Public Strategies Impact as a lobbyist in Trenton. In October 2014, Gannett Newspapers reported that the same lobbying firm cemented “an exclusive strategic partnership” with Christie’s departing deputy chief of staff, Lou Goetting, who is listed on the firm’s website.
The website, which includes a laudatory comment from an ExxonMobil official, says the firm’s outreach to lawmakers can include “meeting with the Governor’s Chief of Staff and Deputy Chiefs of Staff, meeting with Cabinet Level Officials, meeting with key staff members in the Executive Branch (and) meeting with key department staff.” Public Strategies Impact gave the Republican Governor’s Association $80,000 since 2010, according to PoliticalMoneyLine data.
The state’s case against ExxonMobil was pursued by four gubernatorial administrations via the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. Christie’s first attorney general was a former Exxon lawyer, Paula Dow. She was appointed by Christie in 2010 and served as the state’s chief legal official until 2012, when she was appointed to a position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and then to a judgeship.
The official biography of New Jersey's current attorney general, John Hoffman, says he "served as acting attorney general for all civil cases for which the attorney general was recused, including, but not limited to, multi-billion dollar environmental litigation." However, according to NJ.com, Hoffman only began working in the attorney general's office after Dow left in 2012. A spokesperson for Christie, Kevin Roberts, told IBTimes: "Paula Dow recused herself from all matters concerning ExxonMobil during (her) time as Attorney General, including this case."
The New Jersey attorney general's office did not respond to IBTimes' request for comment.