Christie’s Hurricane Relief Fund: A Scheme Gone Awry

Governor Christie has promoted Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund (HSNJRF), as an organization soliciting donations. It’s website says “HSNJRF is a charitable non-profit organization.” However, it is not registered nor authorized by the IRS nor the NJ Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Affairs as a charitable non-profit organization. Furthermore, its receipts and expenditures are subject to conflicts of interest and could be viewed by the IRS as political activity which is not allowable for a tax exempt charitable organization.

A telephone call this afternoon to the NJ Charity Registration Section –  (973) 504 6215 – reveals that this fundraising group is not registered with the Consumer Affairs Division. A NJ organization is in contravention of the law when it has raised $10,000 or more without registering. Neither does the IRS website data base for exempt organizations have a record for this fund. Without a 501 (c) (3) or other similar exempt status, this organizations is not eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

Thus an organization that may have been born out of a desire to do good has already gone awry. Its website solicits contributions, but does not mention any NJ Charitable Registration number, any IRS tax status, board members, treasurer, or statement regarding what organizations it will fund. Because of its statement that it is a “charitable non-profit organization,” people may believe their donations are tax-deductible and the organization is authorized, but such is not the case. It is inadvisable to contribute to such a group until and unless it is in full compliance with the law. Indeed the group may never receive tax exempt status because of the many potential conflicts of interest and the possibility it may be viewed by the IRS as engaged in political activity which is prohibited to tax exempt organizations.

Virtually any contribution to the fund could be viewed as currying favor from the governor. Virtually any expense the fund makes could be viewed as the Governor currying favor from the recipient. Another Blue Jersey diarist elaborates on what makes this look hinky:

  •  Using a natural disaster to make the Governor and his wife look good to suffering constituents.

  •  Allowing people to make unlimited contributions to the Governor outside the normal reporting structure (ELEC).

  •  Allowing the Governor, through the charity, to make monetary gifts to people and organizations that could be politically beneficial to him in the future.
  •  Not being properly registered while accepting contributions in excess of legal norms.

    According to an article in today’s this fund has now raised over $8 million from groups including AT&T and Hess Corp. Both companies have substantial financial stakes in State policies, legislation, and regulations. Christie could have urged individuals and corporations to contribute to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and similar groups. Instead, on the website we have a message from Mary Pat Christie, a post office box in his home town, an organization not recognized by the IRS nor his own Attorney General’s office, and a fund mired in a web of potential conflicts of interest.

  • Comment (1)

    1. Momotombo

      I am assuming you were careful not to use the word fraud on purpose, but as a comment poster, I hope it is kosher for me to say, gee isn’t this fraud?  I serve on enough Boards to know how much trouble this could land people in – and especially as you say, since there are plenty of well-established alternatives, motives become even more suspect  – hard to say just a naive desire to do good done badly.  


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