Serious Allegations About Sen. Menendez Demand Fast, Thorough Investigation

The Senate Ethics Committee should speedily pursue its investigation into allegations that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) interceded on behalf of a major campaign donor in a multi-million dollar dispute with the Dominican Republic, Common Cause said today.

“Recent press reports raise troubling questions about the propriety of Sen. Menendez’s advocacy on behalf of a friend and major campaign donor,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The stories suggest a link between the senator’s actions and a six-figure donation to his reelection campaign last year. This is a serious matter and Sen. Menendez should cooperate fully and promptly in seeing that it is thoroughly investigated.”

The New York Times reported last week that Florida eye surgeon Salomon Melgen, a longtime friend of Sen. Menendez and generous donor to him and other Democrats, gained an ownership interest about two years ago in a company holding a long-dormant contract to provide port security in the Dominican Republic.

Menendez then pressed State and Commerce Department officials to assist Melgen in enforcing the contract, ignoring claims by the Dominican’s customs director that the deal was “against the interests of the Dominican government, due to its one-sided nature, exorbitant clauses, (and) that it violates Dominican laws.”

A political action committee linked to Melgen’s business later donated $700,000 to a Democratic Party group that in turn spent $582,000 in support of Menendez’s reelection.

Menendez also has interceded on Melgen’s behalf in a dispute between the surgeon’s eye clinic and federal health officials, the Washington Post reports. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services has demanded that Melgen repay $8.9 million the agency says it was overbilled for injections administered to patients at his clinic.

“The flood or outside spending unleashed by the Roberts Court has created a toxic stew of money and power that threatens the health of our democracy and unwary public officials,” Edgar said. “The system has become the scandal, and it’s going to take some serious new anti-corruption laws clean up this mess.”