New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has admitted that his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association has had the added benefit of helping his political aspirations as well.
The Republican governor, who is still deciding whether to run for president in 2016, has been crisscrossing the country for months while campaigning and fundraising for GOP gubernatorial candidates — and he's been enjoying the ride.
"It's a political venture, so I'm hoping it helps me politically," Christie told The Wall Street Journal
. "Everything that I'm doing helps to give me more information for when I ultimately decide."
Christie has been overshadowing his potential GOP rivals for the White House while visiting 37 states, some of them several times, during the current election cycle, including early presidential primary states.
"What could have been a better use of Chris Christie's time in 2014?" said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and media consultant to GOP candidates. "It really is the 2016 campaign two years early."
And not one penny is coming out of Christie's campaign coffers. The entire cost of his trips, such as the $1.2 million paid to a charter-plane operator the governor prefers, is funded by the RGA, which also supplies leading political consultants for Christie, says the Journal.
While he's meeting voters from New Hampshire to Iowa all on the RGA's dime and gaining practical knowledge for a possible 2016 run, Christie's presumed presidential rivals pay for their travel with the help of federal political action committees, campaign accounts, and political nonprofits.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul spent $75,000 the first half of this year from RandPAC to fly to a dozen states in recent months, mostly on domestic airlines. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took $22,000 from his PAC, Reclaim America, to finance trips to 40 GOP events this year, according to financial disclosure records.
Most Republicans approve of Christie using RGA funds for what is partially his own benefit because he's helped to raise a record $102 million to support 22 Republican governors, according to the Journal.
But others complain that Christie is more interested in his own political ambitions than that of the governors and gubernatorial candidates he is supposedly trying to help. And they allege that his travel choices reflect his real agenda.
They noted that he's visited Iowa four times while campaigning for Gov. Terry Branstad, and he's taken several trips to New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state.
"Iowa and New Hampshire don't make sense from the perspective of 2014, but they make sense for Christie in 2016," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
But Phil Cox, the RGA's executive director, defended Christie, saying the governor has picked his trips based on the 15 most competitive governors' races.
"His energy level is boundless," said Cox, while noting that paying for the governor's flights was paying dividends for the RGA. "It's a very good investment."
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