New Jersey senator Bob Menendez avoided conviction on federal corruption charges earlier this year thanks to a hung jury. Ten months later, the Left is doing its best to reelect him with his Senate seat hanging in the balance. As Menendez’s lead over challenger Bob Hugin narrows, a Democratic leadership PAC has poured millions of dollars into advertisements, Democratic politicians have campaigned for him, and the press has either remained studiously quiet or issued supposedly reluctant endorsements of his candidacy. It’s apparent that Menendez’s corruption is incidental compared to the goal of keeping his Senate seat in Democratic hands.
In 2012, Menendez was accused of paying for underage prostitutes on trips to the Dominican Republic. No evidence was found to support that allegation, but upon investigation, federal authorities established that Menendez was corrupt to the teeth. Doctor and donor Salomon Melgen gave him tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions and took him on free trips to foreign countries on Melgen’s private jet. In exchange, Menendez lobbied the State Department to approve a contract with the Dominican Republic that would benefit Melgen’s business and worked to secure visas for three of Melgen’s girlfriends. (Separately, Melgen was found guilty of defrauding Medicare to the tune of $73 million.)
In 2015, Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges. The jury could not reach a verdict after more than two months of deliberation. The Justice Department dropped the charges. The Senate Ethics Committee took up the case, in April “severely admonish[ing]” Menendez and all but concluding that he should have been found guilty of federal crimes. But soon after, Menendez had taken back his post at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and earned the backing of key Democrats such as Cory Booker. His reelection campaign was underway.
Democrats often cite the supposedly corrupting influence of “money in politics” in their ongoing crusade to restrict the means of political expression by curbing independent political expenditures and other spending. Here, they’ve turned a blind eye to an old-fashioned, outright case of bribery simply because the bribed is one of their own. Menendez’s worsening numbers may have the party wishing it had drafted another candidate, but it didn’t, and it has continued to support him.
Obviously, its reasoning is simply instrumental. Nobody seriously disputes Menendez’s sleaze or venality, but the margin in the Senate is razor-thin, and Menendez is a reliable vote. His record in office, save for a few relatively muscular foreign-policy positions that increasingly put him at odds with his party’s mainstream, is that of a replacement-level liberal Democrat. Newspaper editorial boards that have attempted to defend his candidacy have succeeded only in making clear the transactional nature of their support.
With Election Day less than a week away, there is no meaningful pressure on Democrats to withdraw their support for Menendez, whose conduct in office is a stain on his party, the Senate, and the nation. Are any New Jersey Democrats interested in maintaining ethical standards? And why shouldn’t every Democrat running for reelection be asked about Menendez, the way every Republican was asked about Roy Moore? Menendez’s Democratic supporters have suspended their ethical judgment to back a man with no principles. We urge Garden Staters to reject him just as Alabamans rejected Moore.