STATE – According to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll, more than two-thirds of New Jersey residents haven’t heard about the Christie administration’s decision to award a multi-million contract for disaster cleanup to a politically connected Florida-based firm, which then donated $50,000 to a Republican organization that backed Gov. Chris Christie’s 2009 election campaign.
AshBritt has made billions by signing disaster recovery contracts with states, though it subcontracts most of the actual cleanup work. The firm plays upon its political connections and experience to convince local officials to hire it by persuading them that it will get them the most federal dollars for cleanup costs.
In New Jersey, AshBritt received a $100 million emergency contract one day after Hurricane Sandy struck, bypassing the normal bidding procedure, to clean up state roads and waterways. In addition, dozens of towns “piggybacked” off of the state contract, resulting in millions more for the firm.
According to a review of AshBritt’s contract with New Jersey conducted by the Star-Ledger, the deal granted the firm several key advantages: towns were able to hire AshBritt without bidding out the cleanup work and AshBritt was able to hire subcontractors that don’t have a state license to transport waste. The state contract also waived some environmental regulations.
An AshBritt representative has said that all debris is being removed, processed and disposed of in accordance with state Department of Environmental Protection guidance, but New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel criticized the state for “doing things behind closed doors.”
Despite its advantages, AshBritt still charges a high rate for cleanup. In Long Beach Township, AshBritt removed 7,149 tons of debris at a rate of $100 per ton. Point Pleasant hired 15 temporary workers and rented trucks to haul away 50,000 tons of debris at approximately $26 per ton.
AshBritt’s founder, Randal Perkins, has close ties to former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a friend of Christie’s and one of the New Jersey governor’s early supporters. The firm has hired influential New Jersey political figures from both sides of the aisle, including Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore; and Maggie Moran, wife of Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty and former a top aide to Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney is calling on lawmakers, candidates and committees from both parties to forgo campaign contributions from any firms involved in the Sandy cleanup operation, but his proposal is meeting with little enthusiasm.
“As representatives, we have to set the example. We have to provide assurance to those we serve that at the end of the day, this is about rebuilding New Jersey better and stronger, not filling campaign coffers,” Sweeney told PolitickerNJ.com.
Representatives from the campaigns of the two declared gubernatorial candidates – Christie and Democrat Barbara Buono – said that they would comply with state election laws but did not specifically address whether they would accept donations from subcontractors hired for Sandy cleanup projects.