By Elaine Magliaro
Mark Arco (NJ.com) said that images of the governor of New Jersey celebrating the Dallas Cowboys’ win on Sunday night “created a stir among sports fans on social media.” Barry Petchetsky (Deadspin) wrote that “underripe tomato” Chris Christie was seen “hugging and bouncing and groping in the owner’s box” throughout the exciting football game. He added that because Christie is “still technically in charge of the great state of New Jersey, some folks want to know exactly how he got there, and how much public money was involved.”
Christie’s spokesman Kevin Roberts said that the governor had attended three games at the invitation of Jones. Roberts added that Jones invited the governor—and picked up the tab.
“Governor Christie attended the game last night as a guest of Jerry Jones, who provided both the ticket and transportation at no expense to New Jersey taxpayers,” Roberts said.
Christie, his wife and their four children attended the game.
Jones paid for Christie and his family to attend the games, including footing the bill for the private jet that shuttled the Christies to Sunday night’s game, Roberts said.
As is always the case, New Jersey taxpayers paid for the governor’s security detail provided by the New Jersey State Police.
David Sirota (International Business Times) wrote that some people have questioned why Christie’s “favorite team isn’t a New Jersey local like the Jets, Giants or Eagles.” Sirota added, “But Christie’s bromance with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also raises an even thornier question: In accepting owners’ box seats, is the governor complying with New Jersey’s tough ethics rules banning gifts and favors to public officials?”
Arco reported that Christie’s office “cited The Code of Conduct for the Governor, adopted under former Gov. Jim McGreevey, in Executive Order 77, which says the governor ‘may accept gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds.’”
New Jersey’s executive branch ethics rules warns state officials that there’s “a zero tolerance policy for acceptance of gifts offered to you … that are related in any way to your official duties.” The ethics rules specifically prohibits public officials from accepting access to entertainment events from any person or entity that public officials “deal with, contact, or regulate in the course of official business.” The rules define one form of restricted gift as “admission to an event for which a member of the general public would be charged.”
In his role as governor, Christie has had myriad high-profile dealings with the National Football League – many of which have proven highly profitable to the league (and, by extension, Jones). Under Christie’s watch, New Jersey officials delivered almost $18 million of taxpayer money to the league to offset costs associated with the 2014 Super Bowl. That included $8 million worth of sales tax breaks, plus millions more in security costs the state picked up for the league. All that was on top of New Jersey property tax breaks that benefit the league.
Sirota said that International Business Times requested a comment from Governor Christie’s office “about his repeated appearances in the NFL owner’s box after his state gave the league millions of public dollars.” He added that it isn’t “clear if the governor is reimbursing the league for the cost of the luxury box seats. If he is, says Craig Holman of the ethics watchdog group Public Citizen, he may be relying on the part of New Jersey’s ethics rules that allows politicians to accept gifts as long as they pay back the cost of such gifts.”
Holman said that reimbursement for access to owners’ boxes was rare. He added that it “smacks of the Jack Abramoff-style of gift.”
Sirota dug a little deeper into the Christie/Jones connection:
Less than two years before Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones paid for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s tickets and travel to NFL games, government documents show Christie personally pushed the Port Authority to approve a lucrative contract for a firm part-owned by Jones. Christie nonetheless accepted the gifts from Jones, despite New Jersey ethics rules barring gifts to public officials from persons or entities that those officials “deal with, contact, or regulate in the course of official business.”
Sirota continued by saying that Governor Christie and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced on March 19, 2013, that they had selected “Legends Hospitality LLC to operate the observation deck on the top floor of One World Trade Center.”
The next day, the Port Authority board — which is appointed by Christie and Cuomo — specifically cited the governors’ announcement in voting to approve the contract for the company, which is jointly owned by the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and Checketts Partners Investment Fund.
Yesterday afternoon, Arco reported that the American Democracy Legal Fund (ADLF) had “filed a complaint with the New Jersey State Ethics Commission over Gov. Chris Christie’s recent trip to Dallas to root for the Cowboys.” Arco said that ADLF “wants the commission to investigate whether the governor violated state ethic rules by accepting gifts from Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones – including a flight for Christie and his family on a private jet.” Arco noted that ADLF “has close ties to American Bridge, a pro-Democratic group that conducts opposition research on Republicans.”
Arco said that ADLF is arguing that “the flight and seats inside the owner’s luxury box at NFL games violated state rules because Jones is a part-owner of a hospitality company – Legends Hospitality – that was awarded a lucrative Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hospitality services contract, according to published reports.”
In part, the complaint that was filed said, “… Given Mr. Jones’ own personal business relationship with the Port Authority which is partially controlled by Governor Christie, it appears Governor Christie’s acceptance of gifts from Mr. Jones violates (state ethic rules).” The complaint also claims that Christie “violated the state’s Conflicts of Interest Law that prohibits state officials from accepting gifts when the person has reason to believe it’s an attempt to influence them.” It alleges that the Governor of New Jersey “also violated the state’s Uniform Ethics Code… which has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for accepting gifts.”
Arco added that the complaint was filed despite the fact that the Port Authority had issued a statement claiming that the lease agreement with the company came following “a highly competitive procurement process.” Christie’s office reportedly “dismissed the complaint as partisan politics.”
Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, “Is anyone surprised pro-Hilary PACs like American Bridge and partisan organizations like the DNC are using the Governor’s support of a football team for a political hit?”
In 2010, Christie cited the New Jersey ethics code in revoking public officials’ special access to tickets at the arenas owned by New Jersey. However, he retained the perk for himself. A year later, under political pressure, Christie reversed himself and reimbursed the state for costs associated with using a state helicopter to attend his son’s baseball games.
Sirota also noted that records for the year 2013 had surfaced. They reportedly show that more than $15,000 were “charged to a state credit card for Christie’s trip to that year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans.”
The Chris Christie/Code of Conduct/NFL Tax Breaks/Jerry Jones/Dallas Cowboys/Port Authority story is a complicated one. I tried to present it as clearly as I could. Not sure if I succeeded.
I’m just wondering if anything will come of the questions that have been raised by some people and the complaint that was filed???
Chris Christie Pushed Port Authority To Give Contract To Jerry Jones’ Firm (International Business Times)
Chris Christie Gets Luxury Box Seats After NJ Gave NFL Big Subsidies (International Business Times)