ADLF Calls for Investigation Into Possible Christie Ethics Violations

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According to recent news reports, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, paid for Governor Christie and his family to attend a Dallas Cowboys playoff game on January 4, 2015. The American Democracy Legal Fund has requested the New Jersey State Ethics Commission investigate this matter promptly as it strongly suggests that Governor Christie has violated state ethics laws, as well as the Governor’s Code of Conduct.

The complaint is available in full below and here. The American Democracy Legal Fund holds candidates for office accountable for possible ethics and/or legal violations. It was established by David Brock and is run by Brad Woodhouse.


Brad Woodhouse
American Legal Defense Fund
455 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20001

Susana Guerrero
New Jersey State Ethics Commission
28 West State Street, Room 1407
P.O. Box 082
Trenton, New Jersey 08625

January 6, 2014

Re: Complaint against Governor Chris Christie

Dear Ms. Guerrero:

I write this letter to file a complaint pursuant to N.J. Rev. Stat. § 52:13D-21(h) against Governor Chris Christie, who has been the Governor of New Jersey since January 2010. According to recent news reports, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, paid for Governor Christie and his family to attend a Dallas Cowboys playoff game on January 4, 2015. This arrangement strongly suggests that Governor Christie has violated state ethics laws, the state Uniform Ethics Code, and the Governor’s Code of Conduct. Thus, the New Jersey State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) should investigate this matter promptly and impose appropriate penalties.

FACTS

According to recent news reports, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, paid for Governor Christie and his family to travel to and attend a January 4, 2015 Dallas Cowboys playoff game in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Jones covered the costs of tickets in the team owner’s luxury box and the private jet that transported the Governor and his family to the game. [1] Each ticket in the owner’s luxury box is estimated to be valued at $2,500 to $3,000. [2] Governor Christie has been seen at Dallas Cowboys games prior to the January 4, 2015 game, [3] and he has told the media that he plans to attend all Dallas Cowboys playoffs games this season. [4]

In response to the public outcry over Governor Christie’s apparent disregard for the state gift rules, the Governor’s spokesman stated that “Governor Christie attended the game [on January 4, 2015] as a guest of Jerry Jones, who provided both the ticket and transportation.” [5] The Governor’s office has stated that the Governor Christie was permitted to receive gifts from Mr. Jones under the Governor’s Code of Conduct provision that allows the Governor to accept gifts from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds. [6] However, media reports suggest that Governor Christie and Mr. Jones do not have a personal friendship and that Governor Christie did not attend the game simply as Mr. Jones’ personal guest.

First, there is no evidence that Mr. Jones did indeed use personal funds. The tickets and the transportation were both initially provided by the Dallas Cowboys. If Mr. Jones reimbursed the team for the cost of the tickets and for the private jet that Governor Christie used to attend the game, no evidence of that has come to light.

However, even if Mr. Jones did indeed reimburse the Dallas Cowboys, his and his team’s relationship with Governor Christie is not a personal one. Media reports have documented the National Football League’s business dealings with the State of New Jersey, many of which have been extremely profitable for the NFL and its owners, including Mr. Jones. For example, during Governor Christie’s tenure, New Jersey officials gave almost $18 million of taxpayer money to the NFL to offset costs associated with the 2014 Super Bowl which took place at MetLife stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. [7] According to reports, the $18 million award included “$8 million worth of sales tax breaks, plus millions more in security costs the state picked up for the league.” [8] New Jersey also provides property tax breaks that benefit the NFL, and Governor Christie has publicly stated that he would like New Jersey to host the Super Bowl again in the future. [9]

In addition to profiting from the NFL’s business dealings with New Jersey, Mr. Jones has an entirely separate business relationship with the state through a company in which he has made significant investments called Legends Hospitality LLC (“Legends Hospitality”). According to publicly available reports, the Dallas Cowboys are part owners of Legends Hospitality, the operator of an observatory which is set to open soon under the operation of the Port Authority, which Governor Christie jointly controls with New York Governor Cuomo. [10] The Port Authority awarded the contract to operate the observatory to Legends Hospitality on March 20, 2013 following a public procurement process in which Governor Christie “personally pushed” for Legends Hospitality to be awarded the contract. [11]

LEGAL ARGUMENT

Governor Christie’s acceptance of gifts from Mr. Jones as described above appears to violate at least two separate provisions of New Jersey’s Conflicts of Interest Law, the New Jersey Uniform Ethics Code, and the Governor’s Code of Conduct.

New Jersey’s Conflicts of Interest Law prohibits state officers from accepting “any gift, favor, service, employment or offer of employment or any other thing of value which he knows or has reason to believe is offered to him with intent to influence him in the performance of his public duties and responsibilities.” [12] State law also prohibits state officers from accepting any compensation, gift, or other thing of value from any source other than the State of New Jersey for any service, advice, assistance, appearance, speech, or other matter related to the officer’s official duties. [13] “Gift” is defined to include “admission to an event for which a member of the general public would be charged.” [14] Given that the State of New Jersey hosted the Super Bowl just last year which cost taxpayers almost $18 million, [15] and 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 both of the provisions above.

Governor Christie’s acceptance of gifts from Mr. Jones also appears to violate provisions of the Uniform Ethics Code (“Uniform Code”), which was adopted by the State Ethics Commission pursuant to New Jersey’s Conflict of Interests law. The Uniform Code provides that “[u]pon the recommendation of the Special Counsel for Ethics Review and Compliance, the [State Ethics] Commission has adopted a zero tolerance policy for acceptance of gifts.” [16] The Uniform Code strictly prohibits a state official from accepting gifts that are in any way related to his official duties. [17] Additionally, the Uniform Code provides that no state officer “should knowingly act in any way that might reasonably be expected to create an impression or suspicion among the public having knowledge of his/her acts that he/she may be engaged in conduct violative of his trust as a State officer or employee.” [18] Governor Christie’s acceptance of gifts from an NFL team owner who has business dealings with the state is a clear breach of the public trust.

Finally, Governor Christie’s acceptance of gifts from Mr. Jones appears to violate the Governor’s Code of Conduct. By its own terms, the Governor’s Code of Conduct is not “intended to be applied in a vacuum” and prohibits “conflicts that are substantial and material or that may bring the Governor into disrepute.” [19] Specifically, the Governor’s Code prohibits the Governor from receiving any gift or anything of monetary value intended to influence him in the conduct of his public duties. [20] The Code does permit the Governor to accept gifts from “relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds” but does not define the term “personal friend.” [21] Even if Governor Christie refers to Mr. Jones as a friend, and even if Mr. Jones did reimburse the Dallas Cowboys for the cost of the ticket and the private jet, Mr. Jones and three entities with which he is closely affiliated financially – Legends Hospitality, the Dallas Cowboys, and the National Football League – conduct significant business with Governor Christie and the State of New Jersey. To allow Governor Christie to receive gifts from Mr. Jones under the guise of classifying Mr. Jones as a “personal friend” when Mr. Jones is a businessman who has benefitted from Governor Christie’s work as a public official, would be to apply the Code in a vacuum. Moreover, such a lax interpretation of the Code would ultimately allow the Governor to make an end-run around the gift rules.

CONCLUSION

As shown above, Governor Christie appears to have violated New Jersey’s Conflicts of Interest Law, the Uniform Ethics Code, and the Governor’s Code of Conduct. The Commission should thus investigate this matter promptly to determine the true nature of the gifts given to Governor Christie and impose appropriate penalties.

Sincerely,

Brad Woodhouse
American Democracy Legal Fund


[1] M. Arco, “Dallas Owner Jerry Jones paid for Chris Christie’s Trip to Root for Cowboys, including Private Jet,” NJ.com, Jan. 5, 2015, available at http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/01/jerry_jones_paid_for_chris_christies_trip_to_dallas_to_root_for_cowboys.html.

[2] M. Hayes, “Christie Spokesman: Luxury Box Tickets were Gift from Cowboys owner, OK under Executive Order,” NorthJersey.com, Jan. 5, 2015, available at http://www.northjersey.com/news/christie-spokesman-luxury-box-tickets-were-gift-from-cowboys-owner-ok-under-executive-order-1.1186423.

[3] Id.

[4] N. Powell, “Chris Christie Plans to Attend Every Dallas Cowboys Playoff Game,” NJ.com, Jan. 5, 2015,

available at http://www.nj.com/giants/index.ssf/2015/01/chris_christie_plans_to_attend_every_dallas_cowboys_playoff_game.html.

[5] Arco, supra note 1.

[6] Id.

[7] D. Sirota, “Chris Christie Gets Luxury Box Seats After NJ Gave NFL Big Subsidies,” International Business Times, Jan. 5, 2015, available at http://www.ibtimes.com/chris-christie-gets-luxury-box-seats-after-nj-gave-nfl-big-subsidies-1773266.

[8] Id.

[9] B. Johnson, “Christie Says Super Bowl Could Come Back to NJ/NY,” NJ.com, May 24, 2014, available at http://www.chatsports.com/new-york-giants/a/Christie-says-Super-Bowl-could-come-back-to-NJNY-0-9870682.

[10] J. Dawsey, “Christie Faces Scrutiny Over Gifts from Cowboys Owner,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 6, 2015, available at http://www.wsj.com/articles/christie-faces-scrutiny-over-gifts-from-cowboys-owner-1420517744.

[11] D. Sirota, “Chris Christie Pushed Port Authority to Give Contract to Jerry Jones’ Firm,” International Business Times, Jan. 6, 2015, available at http://www.ibtimes.com/chris-christie-pushed-port-authority-give-contract-jerry-jones-firm-1774154?utm_content=buffer1742e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.

[12] N.J. Stat. Ann. § 52:13D-14.

[13] Id. § 52:13D-24(a).

[14] Uniform Ethics Code at 3.

[15] C. Zara, “How Much Will the Super Bowl Cost Taxpayers? Impact on New York/New Jersey Residents in 2014, International Business Times, Jan. 6, 2014, available at http://www.ibtimes.com/how-much-will-super-bowl-cost-taxpayers-impact-new-yorknew-jersey-residents-2014-1549033.

[16] Uniform Ethics Code at 6.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. at 5.

[19] Governor’s Code of Conduct, Part II..

[20] Id. at Part III(A).

[21] Id.