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Christie: GOP pays VIP box costs out of abundance of caution

Associated Press Associated Press 8/05/2015

. In this Jan. 24, 2015, photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa.  Mitt Romney’s exit from the 2016 race for president unleashed a frenzy of fresh fundraising and has set off a new race for the backing of donors who had remained loyal to the last Republican nominee.  Charlie Neibergall/AP © Charlie Neibergall/AP In this Jan. 24, 2015, photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa. Mitt Romney’s exit from the 2016 race for president unleashed a frenzy of fresh fundraising and has set off a new race for the backing of donors who had remained loyal to the last Republican nominee. Charlie Neibergall/AP

AMHERST, N.H. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he made the decision to stop billing taxpayers for the cost of entertaining guests in luxury boxes at three New Jersey sports venues in part because he was worried about the appearance of impropriety.

Records show that Christie spent $85,000 in public money to entertain in the boxes between 2010 and early 2012, when the state Republican party took over those expenses and reimbursed the state for those already incurred.

Speaking to reporters after greeting breakfast diners in Amherst, New Hampshire, Christie said he thought it was "completely justifiable" to use a discretionary fund for the entertaining, but decided to end the practice so that nobody could accuse him of spending taxpayer dollars on politics.

"Quite frankly, in today's world where everything is kind of twisted and turned to look like it's something wrong when it isn't, I just said in 2012 to my folks, 'Listen, let's just have the state party pay for this, so to the extent there's anybody there who's political, people can't make the argument that we're using taxpayer money for anything that even looks like politics,'" he said.

The change was made less than a year after Christie came under fire for using a state helicopter to attend one of his son's baseball games and the year before he ran for re-election.

Christie, who is in the early-voting state as he prepares for a likely presidential campaign, said that most of his sports box entertaining is done at football games, and that he invites people from both parties and different interest groups to spend time speaking with him privately.

He said that since 2012, the state party has been paying for all entertaining done in the box — even it's not political.

"I just think it was just the right thing to do and that's why we decided to do it," he said.

The state money in question comes from an account, worth $95,000 a year, allocated to New Jersey governors to pay for official entertainment or other expenses associated with their job. Much of Christie's spending from the account is used to pay for entertaining at the governor's mansion.

Two Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would require the governor to file a written report with the State Ethics Commission about use of the funds each year.

The spending details were obtained by The Associated Press via the state's open records law. The documents obtained by the AP cover expenses like food and drinks, but do not list at which events, including those at the sports venues, the governor was entertaining and who was present.

The expenses, which are allowed by state law, also do not include the cost of using the luxury boxes at MetLife Stadium, Prudential Arena and the Izod Center, which are provided to the state for use by the governor.

Christie, who says he'll make a decision about his 2016 plans by the end of June, has come under scrutiny in the past for not reimbursing the state for his security costs when he's traveling for political purposes and for accepting expensive gifts such as Dallas Cowboys tickets.

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