Joseph "Joe D." DiVincenzo is known in political circles as the "North Jersey Democratic boss." He's also the Essex County executive, a possible future candidate for governor and a very public, very outspoken supporter of Gov. Christie. Just about everywhere Christie has gone in Essex County this campaign season, DiVincenzo has tagged along.
So the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial challenger Barbara Buono jumped on the news today that DiVincenzo faces millions of dollars in potential fines from the state Election Law Enforcement Commission over alleged campaign finance violations -- including using campaign donations to pay for a tuxedo, TV, gym membership and parking ticket. The Star-Ledger, which first investigated DiVincenzo over his use of campaign funds to take a trip to Puerto Rico, did the math: ELEC says he misused a total of $16,548 in campaign funds and failed to disclose 614 campaign expenditures worth $71,810.
Each violation carries a possible $6,800 fine.
Although Christie has taken aim at other allegedly corrupt officials -- and famously prosecuted more than 130 politicians of both parties when he was U.S. Attorney -- the governor has avoided criticizing DiVincenzo. Last year he even defended DiVincenzo for using campaign funds on the Puerto Rico trip: “If, in fact, what they are doing is moving forward on their political agenda, then that’s appropriate.”
The Christie/DiVincenzo ties go back even further. In 2008, US Attorney Christie issued a letter to show that despite rumors, DiVincenzo was not being investigated by his office.
Now, Buono is trying to capitalize off the new allegations. This furthers a bloody feud between the DiVincenzo wing of the Democratic establishment (which is either overtly or quietly supporting Christie in his race) and Buono (who is now going semi-rogue against her own party).
"Gov. Christie came into office promising to clean up Trenton, but he has defended Joe DiVincenzo's questionable spending habits as appropriate," Buono said in a statement. "The governor needs to call on one of his staunchest allies to come into compliance with state law and release all of his records regarding his expenditures. New Jerseyans are sick and tired of this type of politics and the governor can no longer sit idly by as it happens under his nose."
For his part, DiVincenzo said he is defending himself from the allegations. His attorney, Angelo J. Genova, issued a statement: "ELEC chose to issue a formal complaint despite the Commission being provided with much information disclosing and explaining how the questioned expenditures are not personal but are ordinary and necessary and relate to Mr. DiVincenzo's duties as a public officeholder and candidate. He reimbursed his campaign committee for a number of the cited expenses already, despite his campaign believing them to be permissible. Taxpayer dollars were not used for any of these expenses."