September 8, 2006
POLITICS: Bob Menendez Steered Millions To Group That Paid Him
Yes, I know: corruption investigations into New Jersey Democrats are a dog-bites-man story. But New Jersey voters have to ask themselves how many times they are willing to throw the bums back in. WNBC reports that federal investigators are probing whether there was a quid pro quo in Menendez receiving $3,000 a month from an organization as he was helping them receive millions of taxpayer dollars - your dollars:
The U.S. attorney's office has subpoenaed the [nonprofit] agency's records pertaining to a house once owned by then-congressman Menendez, sources told NewsChannel 4's Brian Thompson.
Menendez, a Democrat, has denied there was anything wrong with his renting the house to the North Hudson Community Action Corp. for more than $3,000 a month, even as he was working to obtain millions of dollars in federal grant money while he was a congressman.
Now, I don't know; $3,000 a month may be a fair market rent for the property, in which case this isn't outright corruption, just a too-cozy relationship between a Congressman and a major recipient of federal largesse. That's Menendez' defense:
Menendez campaign spokesman Matthew Miller released a statement saying the senator's dealings with the agency had already been approved by authorities in U.S. Congress.
"This transaction was already approved by the House Ethics Committee, and the U.S. attorney will find that Bob Menendez did nothing but support a well-respected agency in the exact same manner that he has supported other non-profits in the state," the statement said.
"We're troubled by the timing of this subpoena in the middle of a political campaign, but the facts are that the NHCAC has received federal funds for over 35 years because they provide education and health care services to New Jerseyans who need it the most."
On the other hand, above-market payments for real property is a convenient way to launder a bribe - you will recall that was where the Duke Cunningham investigation started.
Will the Democrats pull a Torricelli and end up having to drag some geriatric retiree out of mothballs if Menendez implodes under the weight of this story? Stay tuned.
Well, George McClellan's dead. Who's left?
I'm not arguing that this could be a problem in theory - and I never liked Menendez as a candidate. I wish Corzine had appointed Codey instead. (I would assume that Codey would be the substitute, or maybe they'll follow precedent and see if they can get Bill Bradley back, though I doubt he'd go for it.)
But I honestly doubt this will have a dramatic enough effect to push Menendez out. It isn't enough of a smoking gun, and it isn't as overblown as the Cunningham case to show clear evidence of chicanery.
And I'll reiterate that most of the failures of the NJ Republican Party are their own fault. There's no real leadership there, and the biggest reason this race is so close is Tom Kean's name. (And I doubt the whole "Path to 9/11" mess is helping him among moderates. I know my mom is mad at him, although she's not moderate by any means.)