By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
This is exactly what I was afraid of, Save Jerseyans.
According to an accusatory report in the International Business Times, Governor Chris Christie (R-Cowboys Nation) allegedly pushed the Port Authority to grant a contract to a company owned, in part, by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
The specific allegation? As a general matter, New Jersey ethics rules bar public officials from accepting gifts given by individuals or entities that “deal with, contact, or regulate in the course of official business” with the official at issue. Jones reportedly saw to it that Christie’s travel to his recent Cowboys game appearances were gratis.
The Christie Administration’s official position? An executive order signed by Jim McGreevey back in 2003 permits New Jersey governors to receive gifts from “personal friends.”
Here’s the guide to executive branch ethics in New Jersey if you want a little background. Frankly, whenever someone tries to justify his or her actions by pointing to a McGreevey era move, you can’t blame everyone else for raising their eyebrows.
The actual dispute in interpretation (?) stems from a March 2013 press release by which Governor Christie and his ally to the north, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, announced the awarding of a contract to Legends Hospitality LLC, an entity owned by the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and Checketts Partners Investment Fund, for the right to operate the One World Trade Center’s observation deck. The Port Authority board voted to approve the contract the next day. At the time, Jones’s son (who serves as the Cowboys Veep) issued a statement through the Port’s release stating that his organization was “humbled to have been chosen to operate the Observatory Deck.”
Oh boy. Sounds bad right?
I’m not sure in a strictly legal sense. Christie is a careful guy, and proving that an executive violated ethics rules is difficult to do since so many ethics rules are the product of executive orders, as opposed to statutes, meaning that they’re even more open to interpretation than would ordinarily be the case. Enforcement is also much more tricky in this context.
But this isn’t a legal blog. This is a political website, and story headlines screaming ethics violations associated with a trip to a controversial gazillionaire’s club box are NOT what Governor Christie needs right now as he seeks to move beyond Bridgegate to whatever comes next. Like I said yesterday.
The flip side? It’s a little overly-broad but still generally true: all press is good press.
A Monday night chat about all of this with a well-placed Republican friend gave me some interesting perspective. Folks who already have a firm opinion about the Governor are likely to find their preexisting opinions reinforced by this latest public controversy. The haters will hate and the lovers with love.
Those who don’t already know the Guv too well? Americans who plug into politics only sparingly?
Most politicians would kill for a full cycle (or more) of articles in Deadspin, Sports Illustrated, etc., that don’t have anything to do with (1) a jail sentence or (2) a sex scandal. Poor Mitt Romney, as my friend pointed out, probably would’ve killed to have the opportunity to look as “normal” as Christie got a chance to look in that box, hugging the owner of his childhood team and fist-pumping like a frat boy at a tailgate.
And could over-exposure be balanced-out by over-accusations? Bridgegate didn’t reveal any incriminating evidence re: Christie’s personal actions. Christie’s public opinion in NJ took a big hit but so did that of the legislative tribunal. Might it all turn into white noise IF (and this is an if) the American people get to know and like this guy?
Granted, I’m still not 100% convinced that this entire episode is a plus for the Guv. Not by a long shot. Hypothetical Bridgegate indictments this year could blow everything up. His brand is authenticity and leadership, sure, but hugging controversial fat cats screams 1%. That’s a very easy avenue of attack for Christie antagonists especially considering his many personal and professional financial sector connections. Were it me, I might’ve visited the box once just to get a hit… not for the entire post-season and then some.
But if there’s anyone who could turn this into a positive it’s Chris Christie. And if there’s one candidate who might be vulnerable to a contrast with a real human being, you’d think it’d be Hillary Clinton. Right?
Let’s hear what you think.