New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, finds himself once again having to explain his actions after viewers watching Sunday’s Detroit vs. Dallas NFL playoff game witnessed him taking in the the contest with Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones.
Governor Christie's free trip was not illegal but it has raised some conflict of interest concerns because Mr. Jones also has a business relationship with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, notes The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Christie’s ethical conflict stems from the Jones and the Cowboys partial ownership of Legends Hospitality LLC, which has secured a license from the Port Authority to open an observation deck at the new One World Trade Center.
Christie has been a fan of the Cowboys since his childhood and was given a private jet ride to Dallas and game tickets from Mr. Jones.
The New Jersey code of conduct states that governors, “may accept gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds.” Since becoming governor in 2010, Mr. Christie has forged a friendship with Mr. Jones over the Cowboys.
Wining and dining politicians is as old as the Republic but what makes the public cynical in regards to their political leaders is the size, scope and institutionalized luxury that now permeates the political class.
After lobbyists were barred from inviting politicians on all-expense paid trips to exotic and luxurious places, members of Congress and their fundraisers devised a new system of booking hunting and fly fishing trips, spa days and golf outings paid for by lobbyists. According to CNN , these trips will cost a lobbyist $1,500 to $5,000 just for the face time with elected officials and the travel and lodging at some of the most coveted destinations is not included.
"This reinforces the public's cynicism that those who can spend the money get the access to political leaders," Common Cause spokesman Dale Eisman says. "It's not healthy for democracy."
In the case of Governor Christie, the other owners of Legends Hospitality include the New York Yankees and Checketts Partners Investment Funds. Since both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Christie appoint directors to run the Port Authority, it has been reported by the International Business Times that internal Port Authority documents show that Mr. Christie lobbied hard to secure the contract for Legends Hospitality.
Yankees President and Legends Hospitality board member, Randy Levine, said that Jones did not personally take part in the negotiations with the Port Authority but added that he is a “significant” investor in the business.
Tickets for Jones’s suite on the 50-yard line are not for sale and the price of this kind of experience cannot be quantified. But comparable prices suggest that a luxury suite in a similar location for most NFL stadiums can run upwards of $125,000 per game, while seats on the 20-yard line, could exceed $80,000, so if the price of the private jet ride is included, the sheer cost would pass tens of thousands of dollars in the most conservative of estimates, according to the Washington Post.
The optics of seeing an elected official of any state at a big sporting event from the owner’s suite can be unpalatable – especially when the average cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game was approximately $480 for non-premium seats in 2014, according to Team Marketing Report, a website that monitors all costs in the field of sports marketing.
"It's a natural human tendency, when someone does something nice for you, you want to return the gesture," Mr. Eisman says. "In that respect politicians are no different than us."
Most perks of the office aren't widely seen. In this case, Jones' gesture to Christie was viewed by 43 million people.
"Too often practices like this are business as usual, people like Governor Christie want us to believe they are above this," Eisman says. "He should be more concerned with outright rejecting all of these gifts, regardless of the appearance of impropriety."