Gov. Chris Christie violated election laws by failing to report a pro-hunting rally he attended as an in-kind donation, an animal rights group alleged in a complaint Wednesday.
The group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, filed the complaint against the governor and the political arm of New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, the pro-hunting groups that sponsored the rally 11 days before last year's election.
"This was not an issues rally. The things they did were clearly electioneering," said SHARK spokesman Stuart Chaifetz. "This was a political event."
The complaint alleges that the group's political action committee spent five times the legal limit — about $15,000 — to put on the rally and that neither the group nor Christie's campaign reported the donation.
"The allegation is ridiculous and without merit," said Mike DuHaime, Christie's campaign consultant.
He said there were several speakers and politicians, including Democrats, and that the rally was focused on hunting issues and was not held for Christie.
Democratic Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli backed-up DuHaime's account.
"I viewed that as a nonpartisan event," said Burzichelli, who's also the mayor of Paulsboro and who spoke at the event. He said other Democratic lawmakers were also there.
The complaint also alleges that after Christie won, he appointed the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance PAC's president, Anthony Mauro, to his environmental transition team.
Soon after, a black bear hunting season was approved to thin the population, which some environmental groups say is unnecessary.
In a January newspaper article, Mauro boasts about the rally helping Christie. Mauro told The Star Ledger of Newark that the group "held the rally in New Egypt in late October to help him get elected. It definitely had an impact."
Telephone calls and an e-mail sent to Mauro were not returned Wednesday.
SHARK also complained that several members of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife had made donations to the pro-hunting group, including Larry Herrighty, assistant director of operations at Fish and Game.
While making donations is legal, Chaifetz said there was an appearance of a conflict of interest given that Herrighty was the contact person for public comments regarding the black bear policy.
The bear management plan wasn't put together by one person, DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said, adding that there's no prohibition on state workers making political contributions. He said there are also DEP employees who belong to animal rights and environmental groups as well.