Christie’s personal travel habits, detailed in a New York Times article include a preference for Cessna Citation X flights, Four Seasons stays and champagne toasts, are all legally consistent with his state’s code of conduct for governors – as long as everything is paid for by friends.
“The governor may accept gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds,” the code reads.
Lately, those friends include King Abdullah of Jordan, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Republican superdonor Sheldon Adelson – all with big pockets and big toys, like the private jet Adelson had him fly with his family on during a 2012 trip to Israel, at the same time Adelson was trying to defeat a measure to legalize online gambling in New Jersey (Christie later signed the bill anyway).
Christie also added a provision to the state’s financial disclosure laws in a 2010 executive order that expressly permits him to accept travel and related expenses from foreign governments.
“Christie wrote an ethics code, which essentially says he can accept gifts from a friend, but doesn’t (describe) who ‘personal friends’ are,” said Mark Lagerkvist, an investigative reporter who works for the good government website New Jersey watchdog. Lagerkvist has also battled the Christie administration for years to make records public and currently has a number of public records lawsuits pending against the Christie administration.
Lagerkvist also noted that other state workers, including members of the state legislature, are bound by different ethics regulations. Under New Jersey state ethics codes the governor is allowed to receive gifts from “relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds,” but state legislators cannot receive gifts above $250.
The governor’s office told ABC News last month during the controversy around Christie accepting flights and football tickets from Jones they tried to make state lawmakers subject to the same disclosures as the executive branch, but state lawmakers never took up the legislation.
Christie’s affinity for the finer things in public life has been on display since his time as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, from 2002 to 2008. A Justice Department investigation into the travel habits of several U.S. Attorneys published the following year found he was “the U.S. Attorney who most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification,” doing so 61 percent of the time he traveled in this capacity between 2007 and 2009.
Several of his trips involved stays at various Four Seasons Hotels, which was almost double the permissible government rate. The report said he justified one overnight at the Washington, D.C., Four Seasons because he was speaking there the next morning.
“We do not believe this was a suitable justification for exceeding the government rate, particularly by such a large amount, if lodging at the government rate was available at a hotel within a reasonable distance from that hotel,” the IG report said.
Christie has also shown a fondness for hobnobbing with the rich and famous, socializing with not just heads of state like King Abdullah, but celebrities including Jamie Foxx, Howard Stern, Donald Trump, Robert De Niro, and others.
Brigid Harrison, a political science and law professor at Montclair State University, said Christie’s acceptance of these gifts may not be illegal, but may prove politically damaging if he runs for president.
“I think both his opponents in a GOP primary but also voters will begin to get a picture of a different Chris Christie than he wants to portray to them, one that is scandal-ridden that kind of skirts the law even if it isn’t actually broken,” Harrison said.
“He can claim the King is a personal friend, he can claim that Jerry Jones is a personal friend, but to circumnavigate the rules he put in place is vexing,” she added.
Christie’s communications staff, both traveling with Christie in the UK and back in the governor’s office New Jersey, did not return requests for comment.