Senator Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) hired a longtime aide and lobbyist for the Qatari government to chair his reelection campaign, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday.
Michael Soliman has lobbied Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and other lawmakers on behalf of the Qatari government since 2015.
While the arrangement is strictly legal, ethics experts told the Inquirer that it might constitute a conflict of interest.
“There is a blurring of lines between responsibility to the candidate and responsibility to their client,” said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog in Washington. “Very little of that is a responsibility to the public.”
In a statement to the Inquirer, Soliman said his lobbying work had “always been fully transparent, above board and properly disclosed.” After receiving inquiries from other publications, Soliman said that “out of an overabundance of caution,” he would not “directly or indirectly lobby the senator or his staff on behalf of any client for the duration of the campaign.”
Menendez was indicted on corruption charges in 2015 in connection with his relationship to a wealthy Florida doctor who procured lavish gifts and vacations for the lawmaker in exchange for help navigating regulatory obstacles in his health-care business. Menendez was ultimately acquitted in January by a hung jury that found he did not perform any “official acts” for material benefit. But the Senate Ethics Committee reprimanded Menendez, writing that he “risked undermining the public’s confidence in the Senate,” in an April letter sent after the Department of Justice had dropped all charges.
Menendez has paid Soliman’s consulting firm $105,000 since 2015, but a spokesman for his campaign denied any allegations of impropriety.
Soliman has been a “trusted political advisor to the Senator for more than a decade, but neither he, nor any lobbyist, has influenced how the Senator speaks to representatives of any government in advocating for the foreign policy and national security interests of both the United States and our allies,” said Steve Sandberg, a spokesperson for the Menendez campaign.