New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and a key executive for a firm linked to the latest allegations against his administration have more than a decade of deep ties to the same charity.
Both Christie and Rockefeller Group Executive Vice President Leslie “Les” Smith have served on the board of Daytop New Jersey, a nonprofit substance abuse treatment and education program with facilities throughout the state. They have also attended and chaired Daytop events together.
On Saturday, Hoboken, N.J. Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged Christie administration officials threatened to withhold Sandy aid to her city unless she approved a real estate project planned for land partially owned by Rockefeller Group.
Smith leads Rockefeller Group’s development efforts in New Jersey. He has also donated $2,000 to Christie since 2009.
The executive has been involved with the charity for more than a decade. The spring 2011 “Spirit of Daytop” newsletter featured an interview with Smith in which he said he became interested in supporting drug treatment after a priest who ministered to addicts spoke to the Rockefeller Group. Smith said the priest died in 2000, and he became involved with Daytop New Jersey “shortly thereafter.” His current biography on his company’s website describes him as a member of Daytop’s executive committee.
Christie’s association with Daytop New Jersey began even earlier. According to a spring 2010 Daytop publication, Christie “served on the Daytop Board of Directors for five years, until he became U.S. attorney for New Jersey in 2001.” In 1997, the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper reported that Christie, who was serving as a member of the Morris County government, cut his own salary and refused to accept “county-funded” health benefits “with the savings applied to treatment beds at Daytop Village for drug-addicted county residents.” In December 2001, when Christie was nominated as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, the Associated Press described him as “a trustee of Daytop-NJ.”
On March 31, 2010, after becoming governor, Christie donated $136,800 in leftover funds from his inauguration to Daytop. The following month, Christie chaired Daytop’s April gala. In January 2011, Christie was the “honored guest” at a Daytop dinner.
Smith and Christie both chaired Daytop’s annual gala on June 6, 2012. Invitations for the event described Smith as one of two “vice chairmen” and Christie as “honorary chairman.” That event honored Republican megadonor and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. It began with a “VIP reception” held in Johnson’s “private suite” at MetLife Stadium.
A Daytop newsletter included Christie on a list of donors that gave to the organization between December 2012 and January 2013. The governor’s most recent public association with Daytop came in September when he was honored at the group’s annual gala. Christie and Smith were photographed together at that event, and the governor appeared to speak fondly of the Rockefeller Group executive in his speech, which encouraged guests to give Daytop their continued support.
“You need to know that tonight can’t be the last time you help,” Christie said. “For those of you who’ve been here for a long time … Les is here, I don’t need to tell Les that, members of the board who are here that have been there a long time. But there’s a lot of you out here tonight who might just be here for tonight. Don’t be.”
Neither Christie’s office or Rockefeller Group responded to multiple requests from TPM to comment on the governor’s relationship with Smith.