EDISON - A federal investigation has been launched into Gov. Chris Christie's use of Sandy relief funds for advertisements to get people back to the beach after the Superstorm.
The ads, which included Christie's family, are now under investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general.
The governor had a waiver to use the money for the "Stronger than the Storm" ads, but the issue in dispute is whether the commercials amounted to campaign ads.
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Investigators also want to know why the ads were not done by the lowest bidder.
Rep. Frank Pallone believes the commercials, made for TV and radio were "inappropriate" during an election year. "Normally if you're government agency you take the low bidder," he says. "You don't take someone who'll charge an extra $2 million."
Pallone says the state could have had the ads done for $2.5 million by the Sigma Group, but instead used a second firm, MWW, for $4.7 million. The Sigma Group’s proposed ad didn't include the governor and his family.
The money is from a Federal Community Block Grant to be used for rebuilding homes. In August, Pallone asked HUD to investigate.
In a statement, Christie's office responded by saying the ads were "developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business during the first summer after Sandy." A representative went on to say, "We're confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet."
Republican Gov. Tom Kean was also called out over tourism ads, those with the slogan "New Jersey and you. Perfect together."
John Weingart, of the Eagleton Institute, says it's not wrong for a governor to be used in ads, just not during campaign season.
The inspector general will issue a report on the findings of the audit in a few months.