Nearly a year and a half after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie struck a deal with Exxon Mobil — drastically reducing the amount of money the state was pursuing for environmental damage inflicted by the oil giant — he has tapped one of the people who played a lead role in that settlement to become the state's next attorney general.
Chris Porrino, who helped broker the settlement of the $8.9 billion contamination lawsuit for just $250 million, is Christie’s former chief counsel. Porrino reportedly led the Exxon negotiations for the state. He also had significant personal financial ties to the oil company, according to financial disclosure forms that showed he had $100,000 or more invested in a mutual fund that was itself heavily invested in Exxon.
The lawsuit was initiated in 2004 under Democratic Gov. James McGreevey. New Jersey sought the nearly $9 billion for Exxon’s role, it charged, in damaging 1,500 acres of waterfront and meadow land. An International Business Times calculation made last year when the deal was announced noted that, given Exxon’s 2014 revenues were $411.9 billion, the company could generate that $250 million in sales in roughly five hours.
Since the settlement was announced last year, a coalition of environmental groups and Democrats in the Legislature have moved to block the deal. An earlier appeal to the state Supreme Court was denied. The coalition has appealed that decision in the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division, and says the Christie administration violated the public trust in brokering the deal. Porrino would be in charge of the defense against those claims.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a leading Democrat appealing the settlement alongside the environmental groups, told IBT he will use the nomination of Porrino to question him and try to understand the rationale behind the Exxon deal.
"I’m going to meet with Chris — I serve on the Judiciary Committee — and discuss his role and find out how, why and when the governor’s office got involved in the settlement of litigation conducted by the attorney general," Lesniak said. The Judiciary Committee is tasked with considering Porrino's nomination.
The settlement followed a deluge of campaign donations from Exxon to the Republican Governor’s Association, which Christie used to run and which has backed his candidacies, according to federal documents. Since 2009, when Christie first ran for governor, the oil giant has donated more than $1.9 million to the group, according to data compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com. Exxon shelled out $79,000 during the governor’s 2009 run and $200,000 for his re-election campaign four years later. Christie chaired the RGA in 2014, when Exxon donated $500,000.