A spokesperson for Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) confirms that Jerry Jones, owner of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, paid for the private jet that flew Christie from New Jersey to Texas to watch the National Football League playoff game between the Cowboys and the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
“The governor’s office confirmed that Christie flew at Jones’ expense by private jet to the event with his family,” according to NJ.com.
The value of the round trip chartered flight is estimated to exceed $20,000. The value of the seat to watch the game in Jones’s private suite is estimated at $6,000. Both the round trip flight and Christie’s seat in Jones’s private suite during the game are apparently considered personal gifts from Jones to Christie.
A spokesperson for the New Jersey Ethics Commission stated on Tuesday that she saw no problem with Christie accepting the lavish gifts from Jones, but others are not quite so sure.
“I personally don’t see anything contrary to the ethics laws,” Susana Guerrero, executive director of the state ethics commission, told NJ.com. Guerrero was appointed to her current position by Governor Christie.
Christie, who is rumored to be considering a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has touched off a political storm with his blatant and obvious support for the Cowboys, a team that has a long rivalry with two NFL teams—the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants—who have a considerable fan base in New Jersey. The Giants and another NFL team, the New York Jets, play their home games in New Jersey.
A photograph of the rotund Christie awkwardly embracing Jones in the owner’s private suite as the Cowboys secured the 24-20 victory over the Lions on Sunday has gone viral on the internet. The photograph is reminiscent of another awkward image—the 2012 photograph of Christie embracing President Obama in New Jersey just days before the November 2012 Presidential election in which Obama defeated Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Christie apparently intends to join Jones once again in Green Bay this weekend when the Cowboys face the Packers in the next round of the NFL playoffs. Neither Christie nor Jones have commented on whether Jones will once again pay for a private jet to transport Christie from New Jersey to Green Bay for that game.
News that Christie has accepted a substantial gift from Jones, whose Dallas Cowboys are considered the most valuable franchise in the highly profitable NFL, raises potential political problems for Christie. While he may be able to avoid legal jeopardy due to his acceptance of the gifts, the political perceptions of conflict of interest could prove to be very damaging to his presidential aspirations.
In 2014, for instance, the state of New Jersey provided the NFL with $17 million of tax incentives to lure the Super Bowl to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Indeed, the NFL as a whole and most of the league’s 32 individual franchises benefit from federal, state, and local tax subsidies. Most newly constructed stadiums over the past two decades, for instance, have obtained substantial state and local tax benefits.
And the league itself benefits from its standing as a federally tax-exempt non-profit.
The appearance of conflict of interest arising from his acceptance of these gifts from the highest profile owner of an NFL franchise, however, does not seem to bother Governor Christie in the least.
It may, however, prove bothersome to Republican primary voters in 2016.