Federal auditors are investigating whether $25 million in Sandy relief funds were improperly used for a marketing campaign, starring Gov. Chris Christie and his family, to promote tourism as he was gearing up for his 2013 re-election bid, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Friday.
Pallone, a 27-year House veteran and vocal Christie critic, announced Friday that the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, at his request, has conducted a preliminary review of the spending.
He said the IG concluded that there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation into the state's use of federal funds, the Asbury Park Press reports.
The probe will look into how Christie chose to spend the marketing money approved by the department.
CNN, which first reported the story, said the IG did not respond immediately to a query about the probe.
Pallone says the audit by the IG will take several months, and the findings will be issued in an official report.
The congressman said he was concerned about the bidding process for the firm that was awarded the marketing plan, which was aimed at luring tourists back to an area badly battered by Superstorm Sandy.
The winning firm, Pallone tells CNN, charged the state $4.7 million, about $2 million more than the next lowest bidder, whose proposal did not feature the Christie family.
"This was money that could have directly been used for Sandy recovery. And, as you know, many of my constituents still haven't gotten the money that is owed them to rebuild their homes or raise their homes or to help," Pallone says.
To earlier criticism by Democrats that the ads gave Christie an unfair advantage in the leadup to the election, Christie aides said last summer that the winning bid provided more value.