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More back-and-forth over Christie's Cowboys tickets

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants Gov. Christie cheering on his team when it takes on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants Gov. Christie cheering on his team when it takes on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

"He's part of our mojo," Jones said Tuesday in an interview with a Dallas radio station. "I don't know how we in any way can even think about going up there without having him."

As Jones made his comments, controversy continued over Christie's presence in the owner's box at Sunday's game in Texas. The disclosure Monday that Jones had given the governor tickets to the game - as well as two other contests - and a private plane ride brought scrutiny to a business deal between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a company owned in part by the Cowboys.

A group led by a Democratic operative prepared a complaint Tuesday against Christie to be filed with the state Ethics Commission, arguing that Jones, as a businessman, does not have a solely personal relationship with Christie.

A state executive order permits Christie to accept gifts from "personal friends," paid for with "personal funds." But it bars him from taking gifts "intended to influence him in the conduct of his public duties."

"To allow Gov. Christie to receive gifts from Mr. Jones under the guise of classifying Mr. Jones as 'a personal friend' . . . would be to apply the [governor's Code of Conduct] in a vacuum," Brad Woodhouse, treasurer of the American Democracy Legal Fund, wrote in the complaint.

The fund did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment. But a spokeswoman for American Bridge, a so-called super PAC of which Woodhouse serves as president, said his complaint was filed Tuesday. American Bridge does opposition research on Republican politicians.

The Ethics Commission could not be reached Tuesday night to see whether it had received the complaint.

Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella attributed the complaint to a partisan attack.

"Is anyone surprised pro-Hillary PACs like American Bridge and partisan organizations like the [Democratic National Committee] are using the governor's support of a football team for a political hit?" Comella said.

Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), cochairman of the legislative committee that has investigated the George Washington Bridge scandal, told the Associated Press that he and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) had discussed "whether the committee wants to look into this with our official authority."

Wisniewski did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night. Tom Hester, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats, told the AP there were no plans for a legislative investigation.

The governor's office was silent in response to questions about whether it was appropriate for the governor to take gifts from Jones in light of the Port Authority's selection of Legends, a company owned partly by the Cowboys, to operate the observation deck at the top of One World Trade Center.

The Port Authority's board - with members appointed by Christie, a Republican, and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo - approved Legends for a 15-year lease agreement in March 2013.

A news release issued by Cuomo's office the day before the 2013 vote described the governors as "calling on the Port Authority board of commissioners to approve the agreement."

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, directed a reporter Tuesday to comments by Legends board member Randy Levine, who told the Wall Street Journal that Christie and Cuomo were not involved in the deal.

Levine also told the Journal that Jones was not involved in the bid, though his family is a "significant" owner in the company.

A spokesman for the Cowboys did not return a request for comment on Jones' stake in the company. A Legends spokeswoman said the company would not comment on the financial terms of this or any financial agreement.

Erica Dumas, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority, said the agency expects $875 million in revenue from the deck, based on rent payments and income share. She did not disclose additional financial details.

Dumas said the process leading to Legends' selection began in October 2011. She said the company was selected as "the highest-value proposer from among six qualified respondents to the Port Authority's request for proposals, based on extensive due diligence including comparables research, feasibility and constructability studies, and extensive financial analyses."

Dumas said Legends did not have additional business relationships with the Port Authority.

Paula Franzese, a Seton Hall Law School professor who specializes in government ethics, said the gifts from Jones to Christie were "problematic," given the Dallas owner's business ties to the Port Authority.

Though the bistate agency is not part of New Jersey's government, "even with an attenuated link, it now raises the concern of the mix of business and personal," Franzese said.

Spokesmen for Christie have not responded to questions about whether Jones paid for the tickets and plane ride, or whether the Cowboys did. The governor's office has said Jones provided Christie the tickets and transportation at no cost to state taxpayers.