Flag on the Play: Did Christie Violate Ethics Code by Attending Cowboys Game?

New Jersey is a state divided when it comes to football allegiances, but nothing has united Giants, Jets and Eagles fans quite like the infuriating image of Governor Chris Christie embracing Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after the Texas team’s playoff win Sunday night. Some are speculating Christie’s visible celebration may have political consequences.

Christie, a North Jersey native, has made his Cowboys fandom well known, and has been invited by Jones to attend games in the past. Though Christie may be riding high on the Cowboys’ playoff victory (their first since 2009), his mood may take a hit with accusations of ethics violations. State ethics rules do not allow officeholders to accept gifts of any kind related to their “official duties.” This raises a flag, the International Business Times says, as the Garden State awarded the NFL numerous subsidies for hosting the Super Bowl last year. The governor’s office is quick to point to The Code of Conduct for the Governor, adopted by former Governor Jim McGreevey, in Executive Order 77. It states 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.”

The Dallas trip was paid for in full by Jones, Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts told NJ.com. Since the trip was paid out of pocket by Jones, a personal friend of Christie’s, this is not an ethics violation, according to the spokesman. From the article:

“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 [game], 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.

In April 2010, Christie updated the code of conduct, signing Executive Order 24, which says, “all public officials must avoid conduct that violates the public trust or creates an appearance of impropriety.”

NJ.com also published an extensive rundown of the potential cost of the evening, which includes flights to and from Dallas on Jones’ personal jet for Christie and his family as well as seats in Jones’ luxury-50-yard line owner’s suite.

But there’s even moe to the story. Another article from the International Business Times unearths documents that Christie pushed the Port Authority to approve a contract for a firm part-owned by Jones in March 2013. From the article:

On March 19, 2013, Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a press release announcing their selection of 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.

The Port Authority press release announcing the vote quotes Dallas Cowboys executive Jerry Jones Jr. as saying: "We are humbled to have been chosen to operate the Observatory Deck."

Expect Christie to make an appearance again this Sunday when the Cowboys square off against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

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