White House

Christie and the Cowboys: A match made in controversy

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, talks with Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones, right, on the field as the teams warm up before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, in this, Dec. 21, 2014 file photo taken in Arlington, Texas. Christie's fanboy devotion to the Cowboys drew more scrutiny after he was captured on camera — bedecked in the lucky sweater — jumping up and down and hugging Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after Dallas defeated the Detroit Lions 24-20
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, talks with Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones, right, on the field as the teams warm up before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, in this, Dec. 21, 2014 file photo taken in Arlington, Texas. Christie's fanboy devotion to the Cowboys drew more scrutiny after he was captured on camera — bedecked in the lucky sweater — jumping up and down and hugging Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after Dallas defeated the Detroit Lions 24-20 AP

It’s win or go home Sunday for the Dallas Cowboys football team, and owner Jerry Jones wants his new BFF Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, next to him at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.

The superstitious Jones regards Christie as a good luck charm of sorts – the Cowboys are undefeated when he’s at the game – and it has now come down to a critical playoff matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

Christie will attend Sunday’s playoff game, an aide said this weekend, despite criticism and ethics questions about his accepting gifts of owner’s box tickets and plane rides for last week’s game against the Detroit Lions in Texas. He has also received luxury seat tickets from Jones for two other games.

The aide Christie would pay for his own travel and tickets this weekend.

The questions that have swirled around Christie and Jones since last weekend have to do with the fact that Jones is a part owner of a company that won a contract, with Christie’s support, at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey-owned One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

“Yes he will (be there), if I’ve got anything to do about it, and I’m going to try to have a lot to do about it,” Jones said during an ESPN interview early in the week. “I want that orange sweater, and we want him there. . . . We do need all hands on deck to even come close to these Packers.”

A photo of Christie in an orange sweater embracing Jones when the Cowboys won the game went viral last week.

New Jersey’s ethics laws allow the governor to accept gifts from friends and family as long as they are paid for with personal funds.

But critics have questioned the “friendship” of the two, who only met in the summer of 2013, after the contract had been announced in March 2013. The pair jelled over their mutual love of the Cowboys.

Jones said of Christie: “He is a friend through the Cowboys.”

However, Anne Weismann, interim executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW – said, “It appears that he’s violated the gift rules.” The problem, she said, is that Christie and Jones do not have “the kind of friendship that this code envisioned.” And Christie is taking “lavish tickets from someone who has considerable business dealings with the state.”

Playoff tickets are pricey. The ticket service StubHub had only four suite tickets left Friday for the Cowboys-Packers game, at $1,640.25 each.

On Friday, on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” show, Jones joked that he was saving two seats for the heavyset Christie.

Christie’s office would not confirm that the Republican governor will attend, but spokesman Kevin Roberts told McClatchy that there was no conflict of interest because “the two were not friends at the time of Port Authority contract award to Legends and their relationship strictly revolves around the governor’s lifelong fandom of the Dallas Cowboys.”

Legends Hospitality LLC, which provides large-venue food services and amenities, is a joint venture with the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees formed in 2008 after each team opened their new stadiums. There is also a minority part owned by Checketts Partners Investment Fund, a sports-related consulting and investment firm.

Asked about the controversy at a press briefing Thursday in Arlington, Texas, Jones said, “It’s almost circumstantial that we have any sort of business together with our activity up there at the Freedom Tower in New York. I wasn’t a part of that presentation and didn’t know him when we actually were in a really tough competition with a lot of great companies.”

Legends is providing concession services for the observation deck of One World Trade Tower, which was earlier known as Freedom Tower, and is located near the World Trade Center towers destroyed on 9/11.

There is a partisan aspect at play in the Christie-Jones controversy, too. American Democracy Legal Fund, a Democratic watchdog group, has filed an ethics complaint against the governor with New Jersey’s ethics commission. Brad Woodhouse, the group’s treasurer, played down PAC founder Dave Brock’s ties to potential 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and said of the Christie-Jones connection: “The whole thing smells enough that it should be investigated.”

Jones has not donated to Christie for governor, according to financial records at the New Jersey State Election Law Enforcement Commission, and he did not contribute to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie headed in 2014, according to federal records available at opensecrets.org.

As for Jones, he loves rubbing elbows with high profile personalities – especially if they’re potential presidential material. Christie is considering a 2016 presidential run.

“I’m really getting a kick out of and enjoy him making the effort to make these ball games,” Jones said Thursday. Some other big names he said he’s had in the owner’s box include former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and even the late South African President Nelson Mandela.

“Those are guys that have been a part of our game who are inspirational to me” and the players, he said.

Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed.

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