Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has a major ethics issue on his hands. He’s been indicted by the federal government on corruption charges for allegedly using his office improperly to help to Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor in Florida.
Melgen “offered the senator an array of perks including trips on his private jet, three nights at a five-star Paris hotel, a round of golf at a private club in West Palm Beach and access to an exclusive Dominican resort – some of which Menendez didn’t disclose on financial disclosure forms,” according to Wikipedia and in exchange Menendez apparently did a number of things for Melgen.
Like helping Melgen’s college-age girlfriends with visa problems and intervening in troubles Melgen was having with his billings to Medicare. You see, it seems at one point Melgen billed more to Medicare than any single doctor in the entire country.
As a result, Democrats are distancing themselves from Menendez. Minnesota’s two Senators – Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar – are returning funds they received from their New Jersey colleague. Klobuchar, in particular, is close to the scandal as she may be the “Senator 1” named in the indictment as someone who entered into a mutual fundraising agreement.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado are also donating Menendez’s contributions to them to charity.
A Senator from North Dakota’s other neighbor, Jon Tester in Montana, is taking a wait and see approach on the issue. “Sen. Menendez is innocent until proven guilty. Jon wants to see the legal process play out,” one of Tester’s staffers told USA Today.
Someone who hasn’t addressed this issue at all, though, is North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp. And that’s not because she didn’t receive money from Menendez. During her 2012 campaign Heitkamp received $2,500 from Menendez’s New Millenium PAC.
Which approach will Heitkamp take? Will she return the money or donate it to charity like Senators Brown, Bennet, Klobuchar, and Franken? Or will she sit on it and wait like Senator Tester?
Particularly ticklish for Heitkamp, given how she has positioned herself on the human trafficking issue, are the allegations that Menendez was helping Melgen move young women across international borders.