I’ve been documenting the harsh criticism of Jersey Central Power & Light by local, county, and state officials (here and here) regarding the utility’s handling of post-Sandy restoration efforts. Many of the critics are in areas of the state that are part of Chris Christie’s political base. Which is why the governor’s defense of “New Jersey’s Most Hated Company!”® is so odd:
He noted that JCP&L covers both some of the most heavily wooded areas in the state, and also most of the state’s coastline, “so they drew the short straw on this one, from a logistics perspective.”
The governor said he would again do an after-action report to evaluate the performance of all of the state’s utilities, but so far, he said he’s pleased.
Why would Christie run to JCP&L’s side when so many local officials in his base – and so many customers – are clearly furious with the company? Might it have something to do with Christie’s former life as a lobbyist?
In 1999, Christie registered as a lobbyist for Dughi and Hewit, the Cranford law firm where he was a partner alongside Bill Palatucci, a longtime ally now helping to run Christie’s campaign. Palatucci was also registered as a lobbyist, and the two are the only lobbyists named on the firm’s reports.
Quarterly and annual reports filed by Palatucci and Christie with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission list the clients represented by the firm, as well as the legislation it focused on in the Senate and Assembly. The clients included Hackensack University Medical Center, the Securities Industry Association, GPU Energy, the University of Phoenix and other education and economic development groups.
Christie’s firm lobbied against some bills supporting school choice programs — including one that would have required the state to help pay to send children to charter schools — while favoring other school choice proposals, the records show. On the campaign trail, Christie has promoted state-funded vouchers that students in failing schools could use to pay tuition at private schools or at public schools in other communities. He also says he wants more charter schools to open in the cities.
The firm also lobbied on behalf of GPU to try to deregulate New Jersey’s electric and gas industry, and on behalf of the Securities Industry Association to block securities fraud from being included under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act.
GPU was a utility holding company based in Morristown. In 1996, it became the holding company for JCP&L. In 2000 – right as Christie’s firm was representing GPU – the company was acquired by conglomerate FirstEnergy, based in Ohio, for $4.5 billion.
To reiterate one of the criticisms of JCP&L during the past two weeks:
“If it’s bad news, tell me the bad news. If it’s good news, tell me the good news. People can’t make decisions if they don’t know what’s happening,” Lesnewich explained. “So I can know I have to keep my generator going or I can know maybe to get a hotel room. Or I can know that my elderly parents need to be moved out of town. One of the problems is a lot of these decisions are being called [from JCP&L] in Ohio. We’re in New Jersey. It’s a huge problem.“
I wonder: when Chris Christie was helping to grease the skids for First Energy to come into New Jersey, did he ever dream that he would wind up publicly defending “New Jersey’s Most Hated Company!”® twelve years later as governor?