The New Jersey state treasurer’s office said Tuesday it will not make public its review of the legality of GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s controversial donation to Governor Chris Christie’s state party until after the Massachusetts gubernatorial election.
Democrats, including aides to Baker’s Democratic rival, Martha Coakley, are crying foul, saying that Christie — as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which has spent millions backing Baker — has an interest in delaying release of the review, already six months underway, until after the campaign.
Republicans decried that accusation as politically motivated, while Baker himself insisted he has been transparent about his involvement.
The report examines Baker’s $10,000 donation to the New Jersey Republican party in 2011. Democrats have tried to connect it to a subsequent $15 million New Jersey pension fund investment with a Cambridge-based firm where Baker worked.
When the state announced the review this spring, officials said it would only take a few weeks to complete. But an official with the New Jersey State Investment Council said Tuesday the review was more complicated than originally thought and is not yet done. The earliest it could be released, he said, is at the council’s next meeting on Nov. 19, more than two weeks after the election.
“When the review is complete, Director [Christopher] McDonough will report back to the State Investment Council . . . on findings at the next scheduled SIC meeting,’’ Christopher
News of the delay in the review comes in the final, supercharged days leading up to the election Nov. 4, with Baker and Coakley running neck and neck.
It immediately set off a war of words and charges of political shenanigans, months after Baker’s questionable donation had faded from the political front lines. Democrats immediately linked the delay in the release to Christie’s political maneuvering to protect Baker.
Christie's office would not comment, but the state treasurer’s staff strongly dismissed any notion that politics was playing a part in the release date.
“The date of a gubernatorial election in another state has no bearing on the timing of the review’s completion,’’ said Santarelli.
Still, Democrats pounced on the reports, charging that Christie was playing politics with his administration’s review of the donation.
“Charlie Baker talks about transparency, but he and his national Republican allies are doing everything they can to hide the facts about Baker’s pay-to-play scheme and the ongoing investigation of Baker in New Jersey,’’ said Coakley campaign manager Tim Foley. “Massachusetts voters deserve to know before Election Day the facts around Baker’s pay-to-play scheme, whether he personally profited from it and why he has refused to release documents that would shed light on the pay-to-play investigation.”
The Democratic Governors Association said that unless Christie releases these findings before the election, “voters will be left to assume Baker was engaged in untoward or unethical activity.”
“Republican Charlie Baker is the choice of the old boys’ club and Republican insiders, but this new development regarding his possible pay-to-play in New Jersey makes clear there’s no length he won’t go to ensure he gets to play by a different set of rules than everyone else,” Sabrina Singh, the organization’s deputy communications director, said in a statement released Tuesday.
Baker’s campaign spokesman, Tim Buckley, brushed aside the attacks, saying the Democrats are grasping in desperation for issues to stop what he said is Baker’s momentum in a very tight race.
“Clearly, Coakley and her allies can sense the momentum our campaign has with Democrats and independents and are now . . . peddling total falsehoods,’’ Buckley said.
Gail Gitcho, spokeswoman for the Republican Governor’s Association, echoed the campaign.
“This kind of false attack shows the height of desperation from Martha Coakley and her allies,” Gitcho said in a statement. “Martha Coakley is now confronted with extremely troubling ethics charges after getting publicly caught using her state position to enrich her top campaign donor. Martha Coakley got caught, and now she is desperate to change the subject.”
Asked during a televised debate Tuesday night whether he would call for a swifter release of the report, Baker declined.
“They’re doing an investigation. I stay as far away from it as I possibly can get, which I think is appropriate, and they’ll issue their report whenever they issue it,” he said.
He insisted that he has nothing to hide.
The questions about the legality of Baker’s donation to the New Jersey Republican party began in May when the issue of a potential violation surfaced. Baker at the time of the donation listed himself as working for the Cambridge-based venture capital firm General Catalyst, a position that would bar such contributions.
Seven months after the donation was made, General Catalyst received a $15 million investment from the New Jersey public pension fund. It was first reported by financial blogger David Sirota, who is now with International Business Times.
Baker has insisted he did not hold a position at General Catalyst that would be covered by federal or state security regulations governing political contributions.
In a dozen donations listed in reports filed with the Massachusetts Office of Political and Campaign Finance, Baker listed himself as an “executive in residence’’ with General Catalyst, where he worked from early 2011 until earlier this year, when he took a leave to run for governor. Under New Jersey law, that would bar him from donating to Christie’s party. He said he erred in using the designation.
Both Baker and General Catalyst say that Baker was not involved in making investment management decisions or seeking contracts for managing public pension funds, roles that would bar him, under both New Jersey and federal laws, from making political contributions. Baker said he worked as a consultant, finding and managing companies in which General Catalyst invests.
Christie has said in the past that he considered the donation legal because he is convinced Baker is not covered by the state’s pay-to-play law. He said the Massachusetts candidate had no role in the investment decisions of General Catalyst.
Baker has repeatedly declined to release his employment contract with General Catalyst when asked by the Globe. His advisers say his income tax return, which he released several months ago, are enough to confirm the employment arrangements and show that he was not an employee.
Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.
Earlier versions of this story misstated the name of the International Business Times and misspelled the name of David Sirota.