The Corner

Robert Menendez: The Fourth NJ Senator in Ethical Trouble in a Generation

New Jersey senator Bob Menendez, a former chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, will face federal criminal corruption charges for allegedly pushing the business interests of a shady donor.

The news doesn’t surprise anyone who knows ethically challenged New Jersey’s politics. Menendez is now the fourth Democratic U.S. Senator from New Jersey to wind up in legal hot water in just over a generation.

Here’s the rap sheet, er, rundown:

Jon Corzine, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs, served as a New Jersey senator from 2001 to 2006, when he was elected governor for a single term. After being defeated by Chris Christie, an anti-corruption prosecutor, Corzine reentered the business world as head of MF Global, a derivatives trader. But within 18 months, some $1.6 billion went missing from customer accounts after the firm improperly used them to try to plug liquidity gaps. The government sued Corzine in 2013 for his role in MF Global’s collapse. Corzine denied any wrongdoing. The bankrupt company eventually had to pay $1.3 billion in fines. Corzine surfaced last summer co-hosting a Hamptons fundraiser with David Brock, the founder of Media Matters.

Robert Torricelli served a single term in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2003, during which he was best known for being the single vote that defeated a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution — an amendment he had previously supported and campaigned on. In 2000, he headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and proved to be an aggressive fundraiser.

But his fundraising ties became his undoing in 2002, when it was revealed he had taken illegal contributions from a businessman connected to North Korea. He was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting gifts ranging from a television to earrings, and was forced out of his re-election race in October 2002 after the deadline for ballot changes had passed. The New Jersey supreme court nonetheless ruled that former senator Frank Lautenberg could replace Torricelli, thus saving Democrats the seat.

Harrison Williams, a U.S. Senator from 1958 to 1982, was convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges in the Abscam scandal (immortalized in the recent movie American Hustle). After the Senate Ethics Committee recommended he be expelled, Williams resigned in 1982 and served two years in federal prison. Apparently, his political juice then dried up because he was unsuccessful in his efforts to later secure a pardon from President Bill Clinton. He died in 2001.

With this fertile ground, Chris Christie was able to build a record as a crusading U.S. attorney from 2002 to 2008. During his tenure, his office won 130 cases of public corruption against figures in both parties, including ones against a former mayor of Newark and a former Democratic state-senate president.

New Jersey’s hapless Republican party has been less tainted by corruption in recent years, in part because it rarely holds the levers of power. Indeed, the only two U.S. senators the party has had in office since 1972 came from filling vacancies — one in 2013 with the death of Senator Lautenberg and one in 1982 with the conviction of Harrison Williams.

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