Federal investigators have subpoenaed records of a rental deal between U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and a nonprofit agency in Union City, launching a criminal investigation that is sure to rock New Jersey's hotly contested Senate race.
The action comes two weeks after The Star-Ledger reported that Menendez collected more than $300,000 from the organization over a nine-year period while he represented Hudson County in the U.S. House of Representatives. During that period, he also helped the agency win millions of dollars in federal funding.
State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., Menendez's Republican challenger, has called the arrangement a case of profiting from official action. Two of his Republican allies filed an ethics complaint against Menendez in Congress, accusing him of a conflict of interest. Independent watchdog groups also have said it was a conflict for Menendez to seek federal funds on behalf of his tenant.
Menendez campaign spokesman Matt Miller said last night the senator has nothing to fear from the investigation, and questioned the timing of the action by the U.S. Attorney's Office, considering the election is two months away.
Yeah, anyone can see that the timing is the problem. Meanwhile, from the home office in Puyallup:
WASHINGTON Sep 8, 2006 (AP)— A soon-to-be U.S. senator lends money to a lobbyist. The lobbyist never pays it back. The lawmaker then uses her Senate position to help direct more than $11 million in government money to projects benefiting the lobbyist's clients.
It's the story of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a former technology executive, and her former campaign manager Ron Dotzauer, who founded a lobbying firm and still owes the senator an unpaid personal loan from 2000.
Cantwell's spokesman says she sees nothing wrong with the relationship. Ethics experts have a different take.
Senate ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest when making official acts that benefit people in whom they have a personal financial relationship.
Oops. When the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal broke there was elation among Democrats. This Republican "Culture of Corruption" was going to lead to a congressional landslide taking them back into the leadership. Well, maybe not. The most recent Rasmussen New Jersey poll has Mr. Kean, the Republican, with a 5 point lead. Ms. Cantwell's double digit lead in the Washington Senate race has narrowed to 6 points.
There's a long way to go, but I don't think you'll be hearing the "culture of corruption" tagline nearly as much this fall. The double-edged sword is much more dangerous.