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Gifts To Christie Raise Big Ethics Questions

Memo Pad Politics Sports

Gifts To Christie Raise Big Ethics Questions

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Gov. Chris Christie’s appearances at professional football games to cheer on his beloved Dallas Cowboys have led to questions about why his favorite team isn’t a New Jersey local like the Jets, Giants or Eagles. But Christie’s bromance with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones raises an even thornier question: When Christie received free owners’ box seats for recent Cowboys games, was he complying with New Jersey’s tough ethics rules banning gifts and favors to public officials?

New Jersey’s executive branch ethics rules warn 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 prohibit 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 and with 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. It was also in addition to Christie pushing to give a Port Authority contract to a firm that is partly owned by Jones.

Christie has already said he’s interested in having New Jersey host another Super Bowl. The league has a deep interest in the state’s policy governing sports gambling. Meanwhile, with Christie potentially running for the White House in 2016, the NFL also has an interest in shaping the next president’s thinking on its antitrust exemptions and tax-exempt status.

Despite his state’s business with Jones, Christie nonetheless accepted free travel and game tickets from the Cowboys owner. The governor claims that an executive order he signed allows him to accept gifts from “personal friends.”

Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen says the situation “smacks of the Jack Abramoff-style of gift” — a reference to the convicted lobbyist whose influence-peddling operation involved giving lawmakers access to his FedEx Field skybox for professional football games.

“We have seen a shift since the Abramoff scandal, as many high-profile lawmakers are now far more cautious about accepting gifts like tickets,” Holman said. “But when you are talking about a sitting governor who is potentially running for president, this is something unusual. If these seats were given to him by the NFL or anyone else who is trying to influence his policies, that would constitute a gift and would clearly be in violation of his state’s ethics code.”

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.

New Jersey lawmakers have announced they are considering launching a government investigation into the gifts. The question now for Christie is whether he will reimburse Jones for all the costs of going to the games. If he doesn’t, he is setting a precedent suggesting public officials can deem anyone a “personal friend” and then ignore the most basic anti-corruption rules that remain on the books.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books Hostile Takeover, The Uprising and Back to Our Future. Email him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

David Sirota

David Sirota is International Business Times' senior editor for investigations. He is also a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and a bestselling author. He lives in Denver, Colorado and covers the intersection of money, politics and finance. He appears periodically on national television shows and is a "real guy represented by the character on ABC's The Goldbergs," according to Twitter.

In 2014, he was the winner of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers' investigative journalism award, and the winner of the Izzy Award for Journalism from Ithaca College's Park Center for Independent Media.

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  1. highpckts January 9, 2015

    He’ll skate on this just like everything else he has done! Start calling him the Teflon Governor!

    1. Joyce January 9, 2015

      I really hope you’re wrong

  2. johninPCFL January 9, 2015

    He must be relying on Dick Cheney for advice. After all, Dick’s comment on GWB: “If the president does it, it’s legal.” Watergate be damned!

    1. jointerjohn January 9, 2015

      Maybe he’s getting advice from former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He had the same kind of attitude and look where he is now.

    2. Eric Lipps January 9, 2015

      Actually, Richard Nixon said it first, in a 1978 David Frost interview—essentially admitting he had violated the law in Watergate, despite his frequent protests before and after that interview that he hadn’t done anything wrong, but claiming it didn’t matter because as president he was above the law.

      1. Dominick Vila January 10, 2015

        I can just imagine what would happen if President Obama did the same…

    3. pm1 January 12, 2015

      christie raised millions for the bush cabal. bush then appointed christie as NJ attorney. christie is a fraud. He represents the “W”orst in back-room cronyism politics. How anyone could ever support this corrupt big-mouth clown is beyond reason.

  3. Magnus Thunderson January 9, 2015

    He just thinks he a ruler and not an elected official and better then the rest of us and his actions show it

    1. Eric Lipps January 9, 2015

      You’ve got that right.

      The governor claims that an executive order he signed allows him to accept gifts from “personal friends.”

      Isn’t it nice for him that he can sign an executive order exempting himself, personally, from inconvenient ethics rules?

  4. Dominick Vila January 10, 2015

    This issue may resonate in New Jersey, but I doubt it will at a national level. Chris Christie is not going to win the GOP nomination. If he decides to run, he will be a second tier contender…and I suspect he is well aware of that.

  5. The lucky one January 10, 2015

    There are no questions concerning Christie’s ethics. He has demonstrated numerous times that he has none.

  6. Eleanore Whitaker January 10, 2015

    Now what have I been posting since the day Christie was elected? He is now and always has been closely linked with North Jersey thugs. Like all GOP men, he doesn’t feel he owes anyone ANY explanations. The ballsiness of this governor shows an arrogance that under every GOP male skin is part of their DNA. Sorry, but after 33 years as a Republican female, this is “leftovers” from having spent too long in such an arrogantly, male dominated party.

    GOP have two operatives functioning at any given time: the ability to ignore that which they do not want to EVER confront and to go deaf as a matter of convenience.

    How many people in NJ knew that Christie was instrumental in getting Jerry Jones an interest in the Port Authority? What the hell is a Texas business man like Jerry Jones doing owning a piece of NY/NJ’s PA? Can NY/NJ own a piece of their Dallas or Houston land holdings? You bet not.

    Prepare yourselves…the United States of Texas is becoming a reality day by day. All anyone has to do to prove this is to view the SC hearing on the eminent domain case brought by the state of NB against Keystone. You’ll love how TX, OK, ND and Alaska are claiming that Keystone is “interstate” and therefore Canada has a right to take American state land as part of a “federal” Keystone project. And that ND Senator whining about how Obama is dragging his heels stood before the Congress and lied through his teeth about it. Bush shoved the first Keystone under the noses of taxpayers. If Texas Big Oil wants Keystone…pay for it.

    The Koch bois are behind Keystone. They’ve had nearly 2 decades of oil interests in Alberta’s tar sand oil mining. So now, the big oil states are desperate to make the case that any land in the US can be taken by eminent domain even when it’s for private profit so long as they can label it “interstate.” States rights when its their state. Trample states rights when it isn’t?

  7. Eleanore Whitaker January 10, 2015

    I’ve lived in the masterful Pay to Play state all my life. Everyone who has lived a lifetime in NJ knows the skankage that goes on behind the scenes. Butter a palm here, pass legislation for cronies there. Christie is refusing to admit he’s guilty of conflict of interest.

    He was instrumental in helping Jerry Jones of the Cowboys get a nice tidy little interest in the Port Authority deal to revamp it. He also is guilty of conflict of interest when he got his legal team with whom he has had previous crony ties to absolve him of guilt for BridgeGate…the arrogant middle aged Buffoon of the GOP thinks he can do as he please and all he has to do is reinterpret the law to suit his needs.

    1. Bill January 10, 2015

      Isn’t that what the GOP does?

  8. Dave January 13, 2015

    The RINO Chris Christie will never get the GOP nomination. He is funded by liberal billionaire’s and democratic donors like George Soros, who have giving him some of his financial backing.



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