Statement by Miles Rapoport on the indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez

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  • Dale Eisman

The indictment returned against Sen. Bob Menendez today alleges a gross abuse of the public trust. While he is of course presumed innocent at this point, Sen. Menendez should step aside from his position as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until this matter is resolved. The last senator to be indicted, the late Ted Stevens of Alaska, gave up his leadership positions while the case against him was pending.

This case highlights again how misguided court decisions and a gridlocked Federal Election Commission have given us a campaign finance system that borders on legalized bribery. Wealthy individual and corporate donors now are free to make six- and seven-figure donations to super PACs and political non-profit groups dedicated to the election or reelection of specific candidates. While the names of those donors can be concealed from the public, they are no secret to the candidates and officeholders involved. With so much money at stake, it’s not surprising to find senators and representatives paying special attention to the desires of their donors.

Regardless of Sen. Menendez’ guilt or innocence, his indictment ought to push his Senate colleagues to tighten their enforcement of ethical standards. The Office of Congressional Ethics, created in 2008, has provided an effective mechanism for an independent review of alleged ethical violations by members of the House; the Senate needs a similar body to police its members.

Beyond that, the House and Senate need to join in reworking the campaign finance system to break their collective dependence on big money. The Government by the People Act, introduced in the House, would allow candidates to rely on small dollar donations from individuals, supplemented by public funds; the DISCLOSE Act would stop big dollar donors from hiding their identities and their agendas by channeling their money into non-profit “social welfare” organizations that in truth are dedicated only to the welfare of particular candidates.