A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Corzine’s Misleading Calls on Christie

Corzine goes after Christie in New Jersey's gubernatorial race - fast, hard and with a few factual twists.


Summary

Less than a week after former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie won the right to challenge Democratic New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine as the Republican nominee in the fall gubernatorial contest, the Corzine campaign released two ads with the goal of reminding voters just how Republican Christie is.

A number of the ads’ claims are reasonably on target. Christie is anti-abortion, for instance, and opposes new gun control laws. He doesn’t have much to say about global warming, either. But one of the claims is outright misleading and others could use context:

  • One ad makes it appear that a newspaper called Christie’s proposed corporate tax cuts "fiscally irresponsible." But the newspaper said nothing of the kind; it simply reported on Christie’s proposal. It’s the Corzine camp’s opinion that the cuts would be irresponsible. 
  • The ad also claims Christie would "cut health care coverage, including mammograms." Christie didn’t propose cutting health care or mammograms directly, though. He said he would allow insurance companies to offer "mandate free" policies with "limited benefits" that he says "may be more attractive to young, single people." But some experts say allowing "mandate free" policies would have the same practical effect as repealing the state’s coverage mandates.

Analysis

Gov. Jon Corzine is on the air in the Garden State with ads going after former state prosecutor Christopher Christie, the Republican nominee for governor. In the ads, Corzine questions what kind of leader Christie would be if elected, but offers answers that in one case misleads, and in others could use some context.

What Kind of Governor?

In the ad titled "Congratulations" Corzine gives Christie a pat on the back noting that he "just won the Republican primary." Then he goes after him on such issues as health care, property taxes and the stimulus package.

Corzine Governor ’09 Ad: "Congratulations"

   [TET ]

Announcer: Chris Christie just won the Republican primary. So, what kind of governor would he be? Christie would cut health care coverage, including mammograms. Christie would give corporations fiscally irresponsible tax breaks. He opposes a woman’s right to choose. Refused President Obama’s stimulus funds. And The Star-Ledger called Christie’s property tax plan a ‘fantasy.’ That’s the kind of governor Chris Christie would be.[/TET]

"Fiscally Irresponsible" Tax Breaks

Next, the ad shows a graphic saying: "Christie would give corporations fiscally irresponsible tax breaks." The source for the claim is listed as the Home News Tribune. But the article cited doesn’t portray Christie’s plan to cut the corporate business tax as "fiscally irresponsible"; in fact, it simply says he wants to cut corporate taxes. (The same article appeared in another Gannett newspaper, The Daily Record, on May 16.) Contrary to the ad’s portrayal, the newspaper offered no opinion about whether the plan is responsible or not.

We’ve criticized this particular tactic – attempting to borrow the credibility of a news organization to bolster a candidate or cause or to go after the other side – over and over here at FactCheck.org.

Cutting Health Care Coverage

The ad claims that as governor, Christie would "cut health care coverage, including mammograms." The Christie campaign says this charge is "completely untrue."

In response to the Corzine ad, the Christie campaign said: "Chris Christie would permit patients to decide what type of coverage they wanted, not cut coverage for anyone."

As backup for the claim, the Corzine campaign points to a February 2009 article from the Asbury Park Press discussing some elements of Christie’s business and tax platform. The reference to mammograms comes from a 2004 article in the OB/GYN News that reported that "[a] new law passed in New Jersey requires insurers to cover an annual mammogram for women aged under 40 years who have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors." But nowhere in the Asbury Park Press article does it mention Christie planning to make cuts to health care coverage. What the article does say is that Christie intends to "[p]ermit insurance companies to offer ‘mandate free’ policies with limited benefits," adding that "such plans might be more attractive to young, single people."

So, Christie hasn’t directly proposed cutting health care coverage as the ad suggests, but some experts say the effect of allowing insurers to offer "mandate free" policies may amount to the same thing. Joel Cantor, professor and director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, told FactCheck.org in an e-mail: " ‘Cutting health care coverage’ in this context is in the eye of the beholder. Introducing ‘mandate free’ plans would, in effect, [be a] repeal of the mandates. Absent the mandates, whether these things would be covered becomes a function of private markets (and in some cases, union-management negotiations)."

Refusing Stimulus Funds

The ad then goes on to say that Christie "[r]efused President Obama’s stimulus funds." Christie isn’t governor (at least not yet), and thus hasn’t had the authority to refuse any such money, let alone all of it as the ad’s wording might lead a viewer to believe. He has said, vaguely, that he would reject federal funds with certain "strings attached" to them.

In the interview that the Corzine campaign cites as the source for this claim, Christie explained his position to Michael Aron, host of New Jersey Public Television and Radio’s "On The Record," who was trying to distinguish Christie’s position from that of Steve Lonegan, another candidate for the Republican nomination:

Aron, "On the Record," April 19: Steve Lonegan the other day at the Morristown Green, where you and Rick Merkt also appeared, said that he would not accept any of the $2.2 billion in federal stimulus money. I think your position sounded more like you wouldn’t let the federal government dictate how we’d spend it but you’d accept it. Is that what I heard?
 
Christie: Well, what I said was if any of the money was offered – and we know some of the money was offered with strings attached to it – that restricted the state government’s ability to be able to make decisions on its own regarding the programs that it was accepting stimulus money into, I would not accept it on that basis. … What I’m talking about is mandating changes and specifically expansions of certain programs in return for taking the money over the long term, not just for the time that you accept the money, but over the long term. I would not allow the federal government to dictate to me as governor how, in fact, I would manage the programs in my budget and so if those strings were attached I wouldn’t accept it. But if there were not those kinds of strings attached I would accept it.

Christie dug himself a hole here; his answer was short on details, so we can’t say to which programs he was referring, or how much (if any) of the federal stimulus money they would represent. He may have been following the lead of several Republican governors in other states, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who have also vowed to reject parts of the stimulus package. The others have been more specific. Jindal, for example, said he would reject the part of the stimulus package that provides unemployment benefits to a broader range of jobless residents than was previously eligible, arguing that after the federal money ran out, his state would be stuck with a bigger unemployment tab than it otherwise would have had.

A "Fantasy" Tax Plan

The final claim in the ad is that Newark’s Star-Ledger called Christie’s property tax plan a "fantasy." Actually, the editorial written for the paper by Paul Mulshine labeled Christie’s "income tax" plan a "fantasy," as he made clear in a separate, later blog post.

Paul Mulshine, NJ.com, June 6: As is obvious, I was talking about Christie’s income-tax plan, not his property-tax plan. I couldn’t have been talking about his property-tax plan for the simple reason that he has never released one. He promised on Feb. 28 to release one "in two weeks" and still has not told us his plan. His income-tax plan may be a fantasy, but his property-tax plan doesn’t even qualify for that faint praise. It’s nonexistent.

We’d call this one a technical violation; the ad should have said it was Christie’s income tax plan that was called a "fantasy" in the editorial. But it’s pretty clear that Mulshine holds Christie’s approach to property taxes in even lower regard. (Mulshine, by the way, pulled for Christie’s main rival, Lonegan, during the GOP primary campaign.)

Who Stands with New Jersey?

In a separate ad, titled "Stand," an announcer asks viewers: "Who stands with you?" The implied answer is that it’s not Christie, as the ad claims that Corzine’s opponent "opposes a woman’s right to choose," "opposes banning armor-piercing rifles" and "will cut environmental protection." This ad’s hard-hitting claims are either true or pretty darn close.

Corzine Governor ’09 Ad: "Stand"
 
 

[TET ]

Announcer: Who stands with you? Republican Chris Christie opposes a woman’s right to choose. Democrat Jon Corzine’s fought to protect it. Republican Christie stands with the N.R.A. and opposes banning armor-piercing rifles. Jon Corzine’s a leader in the fight against the gun lobby. Republican Christie is silent on global warming and will cut environmental protection. Jon Corzine’s creating jobs and making New Jersey a leader in green, renewable energy. So who stands with you? [/TET]

Christie describes himself as "pro-life" on his campaign Web site and says that he wants to "reduce abortions in New Jersey through laws such as parental notification, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on partial-birth abortion."

And Christie has expressed opposition to establishing new laws controlling guns in the state, which would include bill A-2116 in the New Jersey Assembly. That bill would ban (with some exceptions) firearms that are .50 caliber and higher. Christie said at a February press conference: "I think, you know, from my looking at it across the country, you know, we have very, very good, tough gun laws in this country, in this state, and I don’t know that we need any more."

The Christie campaign takes exception to the portion of the ad that says Christie "stands with the NRA," saying in response: "[Christie] opposes attempts to permit conceal and carry laws in New Jersey – hardly the NRA position."

Global Warming Silence, Environmental Cutbacks

The claim that Christie is "silent on global warming" is based on the former U.S. attorney’s refusal to criticize Lonegan for comments he made questioning global warming science. Actually, Christie wasn’t just silent, he was downright dismissive. According to a PolitickerNJ.com report, Christie "opted against criticizing" Lonegan, saying: "I’m going to focus on more significant issues, such as state unemployment and this economic death spiral. …I’ll let Steve scrap around on those global subjects." Score another one for Corzine.

The charge that Christie would "cut environmental protection" is based on an Associated Press article that reported Christie saying he "would lay off environmental protection workers and strip their agency of its fish and wildlife oversight." The AP reported that Christie suggested laying off workers at the state Department of Environmental Protection as a way of cutting government spending, and that Christie would take away the department’s oversight of fish and wildlife issues because, he said, it "is a law enforcement issue that DEP should not be policing." The article also said:

AP: Christopher Christie, the former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said Tuesday that the state Department of Environmental Protection is too big and is "killing business." He also said business people have "horror stories" of permit delays and indiscriminate fines meted out by the agency.

Does all this justify saying that Christie would "cut environmental protection"? Some might argue that Christie might want to simply make the department more efficient. But it’s our judgment that Corzine’s ad has sufficient grounds for this assertion.

Five months till Election Day. We have a feeling we’ll be writing about this race again.

—by D’Angelo Gore

Sources 

Halbfinger, David M. "In Bid for Re-Election, New Jersey’s Governor Plays to Party Faithful." New York Times, 8 June 2009.

Pizzaro, Max. "Murphy endorses Christie for governor." PolitickerNJ.com, 14 May 2009.

Segall, Eli. "NJ GOP candidate vows spending cuts, targets DEP." Associated Press, 28 April 2009.

Associated Press. "Corzine, Labor Secretary to tour green jobs program at training academy in Paramus," 29 April 2009.

Office of the Governor of New Jersey. "Governor Corzine Introduces New Energy Master Plan," 22 Oct. 2008.

Symons, Michael. "Christie unveils business, taxes platform." Asbury Park Press "Capitol Quickies" Blog, 27 Feb. 2009.

Symons, Michael. "GOP hopefuls participate in second debate." Home News Tribune, 17 May 2009.

Symons, Micahel. "Corzine’s first ads." Asbury Park Press "Capitol Quickies" Blog, 9 June 2009.

Mulshine, Paul. "Steve Lonegan winning ideological debate in N.J.’s Republican race." The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), 14 May 2009.

Mulshine, Paul. "The plot thickens …." NJ Voices Blog, 6 June 2009.